Sunday, November 17, 2013

[Doc] Fed. Judge requires PA to defend marriage ban in court

Judge John E. Jones
On Friday a federal judge rejected a plea by the State of Pennsylvania to dismiss a marriage equality case, Deb Whitewood et al v. Michael Wolf et al (fka Deb Whitewood et al v. Corbett et al).

District Judge John E Jones, for the Middle Districts of Pennsylvania, ruled that the state of Pennsylvania must defend the ban despite the contention by the state that his court had no authority to rule in the case. One of the more interesting portions (relevant to the existence of a federal question):

Defendants’ predominant argument is that pursuant to the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), this action must be dismissed due to a lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. We disagree that the holding of Baker precludes this action.

The Supreme Court’s single line opinion in Baker reads as follows: “The appeal is dismissed for want of a substantial federal question.” Id. Baker arrived before the Supreme Court on appeal from the Supreme Court of Minnesota, which had held that a state law banning same-sex marriages did not violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. While we do not disagree that Baker is considered precedential, see Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 344 (1975) (dismissal for lack of a substantial federal question is a decision on the merits), we ultimately do not find it controlling due to the significant doctrinal developments in the four decades that have elapsed since it was announced by the Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs in the case argue that the law violates constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process.The consists of couples married lawfully in other states as well as unmarried couples wishing to marry in Pennsylvania. A pretrial case management conference is now scheduled for November 22, 2013.
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