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United States v. Windsor

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Edith Windsor sued the federal government on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act because it would not recognize marital benefits for same-sex partners.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    (1) A court of appeals can review a decision of the lower court that was ruled in favor of the appellant. (2) It is unconstitutional for same-sex couples to be denied federal benefits because they are not within the statutory definition of marriage.

    Facts.

    Edith Windsor (Windsor) married Thea Spyer (Spyer) in Canada and lived together in New York, a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. Spyer died some years later and left property to Windsor. Windsor sought a federal tax exemption for widows but was denied under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as a husband married to a wife. Windsor sued based on the constitutionality of DOMA and the attorney general issued a letter to Congress stating that DOMA’s constitutionality will no longer be defended in federal court. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) then defended DOMA. The District Court and Court of Appeals held that DOMA was unconstitutional.

    Issue.

    (1) Whether a court of appeals can review a decision of the lower court that was ruled in favor of the appellant? (2) Whether it is constitutional for same-sex couples to be denied federal benefits because they are not within the statutory definition of marriage?

    Held.

    Yes and no. Controversy continues to exist even where the government is in agreement with the opposing party. DOMA is invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment because it denies same-sex couples equal protection.

    Dissent.

    (Roberts, C. J.) The Court lacks jurisdiction in this case and although DOMA is constitutional, DOMA does not affect state definitions of marriage.

    (Scalia, J.) The Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to overturn DOMA because the courts do not have authority to determine the constitutionality of laws. Similarly, this decision will interfere with state’s rights to define marriage.

    (Alito, J.) DOMA is valid because it does not interfere with state’s rights to define marriage. DOMA exists to make a determination regarding which class of people are entitled to benefits under federal law. 

    Discussion.

    Being forced to pay a tax is enough issue to seek an appeal. Similarly, an adverse judgment existed because the government upheld DOMA and refused to refund Windsor’s tax payments. Marriage is within the power of the states and DOMA is denying the state’s recognition of same-sex marriage when they deprive Windsor of marital benefits.


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