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Credit Ian Millhiser of Think Progress with the excellent headline that appears above as well as the following story that appeared on the group’s website yesterday:

ROn Tuesday, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Holt v. Hobbs, establishing that a Muslim inmate may grow a half-inch beard “in accordance with his religious beliefs,” despite a prison policy prohibiting him from doing so. This result is not particularly surprising. During oral argument the justices appeared sympathetic to the inmate, who listed as “Gregory Houston Holt AKA Abdul Maalik Muhammad.” And Mr. Muhammad had strong legal arguments supporting his case.

In the Court’s majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito convincingly rebuts the prison’s justifications for requiring Muhammad to shave. Among other things, the prison claimed that an inmate might hide contraband, such as a razor or illegal drugs, in their beard if they were permitted to grow one. According to Alito, however, the prison’s claim that an inmate might smuggle items in a half-inch beard, is “hard to take seriously.” The prison, for example, does not require inmates to shave their heads, so “it is hard to see why an inmate would seek to hide contraband in a 1/2-inch beard rather than in the longer hair on his head.”

Though Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joins Alito’s opinion, she also penned a two sentence concurring opinion explaining why Tuesday’s decision is a proper application of an individual’s religious freedoms — and why she believes that the Court’s birth control decision in Hobby Lobby was erroneous. “Unlike the exemption this Court approved in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.,” Ginsburg explains, “accommodating petitioner’s religious belief in this case would not detrimentally affect others who do not share petitioner’s belief. On that understanding, I join the Court’s opinion.” Read More

News

The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to take on directly the question of whether same-sex marriage bans violate the Constitution.

Here’s the language from the order:

The petitions for writs of certiorari are granted.

14-556             OBERGEFELL, JAMES, ET AL. V. HODGES, RICHARD, ET AL.
14-562             TANCO, VALERIA, ET AL. V. HASLAM, GOV. OF TN, ET AL.
14-571             DeBOER, APRIL, ET AL. V. SNYDER, GOV. OF MI, ET AL.
14-574             BOURKE, GREGORY, ET AL. V. BESHEAR, GOV. OF KY, ET AL.

The cases are consolidated and the petitions for writs of certiorari are granted limited to the following questions: 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

A total of ninety minutes is allotted for oral argument on Question 1. A total of one hour is allotted for oral argument on Question 2. The parties are limited to filing briefs on the merits and presenting oral argument on the questions presented in their respective petitions. The briefs of petitioners are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, February 27, 2015. The briefs of respondents are to be filed on or before 2 p.m., Friday, March 27, 2015. The reply briefs are to be filed on or before2 p.m., Friday, April 17, 2015.

The cases come to the court from four states in the Sixth Circuit — Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky —  and follow that circuit’s decision upholding same-sex marriage bans in each of them.

News

marriage amendmentEarlier this week, State Senate President Phil Berger and former House Speaker Thom Tillis filed a petition for review at the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to overturn the October decisions by federal district court judges in North Carolina rejecting the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The federal court rulings followed the July decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic v. Schaefer, overturning a similar Virginia ban.

Tillis and Berger then intervened in two North Carolina cases for purposes of appeal after state Attorney General Roy Cooper refused to move forward, saying that the courts had now settled the question.

A third district court judge in North Carolina has also rejected the state’s marriage ban, but did not allow the lawmakers to intervene for purposes of appeal. That case, along with the two now before the nation’s highest court, is winding its way through the Fourth Circuit but is not part of the petition for review.

In October, the nation’s highest court refused to take several appeals overturning state marriage bans, likely because at that time all of the underlying decisions reached the same conclusion and no circuit split existed.

Since then, though, the Sixth Circuit has upheld bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, creating the necessary split of authority on the issue.

The justices have been considering petitions for review in cases out of each of those states and may decide as early as this Friday which, if any, they will take. If they do hear any of the appeals, argument will likely be in April with a decision expected near the end of the term in late June.

Notably, the justices did refuse on Monday to take a case out of Louisiana which, like the North Carolina cases, had not yet been reviewed by the circuit court of appeals.

As SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston notes:

The Court’s denial of review in the Louisiana same-sex marriage case is not a reliable indicator of the Court’s current interest in the authority of the states to ban same-sex marriage. The couples in the Louisiana case had asked the Court to bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and take on the case without waiting. The Justices’ response probably indicates a desire not to intrude into the review by the Fifth Circuit, which held a hearing on the Louisiana case, and two others, just last Friday. The Court seldom chooses to bypass appeals courts, although it clearly has the authority to do so.

State Rep. Tim Moore, sworn in as the new House Speaker yesterday, will now take the place of Tillis in the petition. Moore has long opposed gay marriage and has said that he and his Republican colleagues “owe it to the voters” to take all steps to uphold the state’s ban.

Recent polling shows, however, that most state residents now favor gay marriage.

The petition, though filed on January 9, was not docketed by the court until Tuesday. Read it in full here.

Commentary

Gay marriage 3Regular NC Policy Watch contributor Charles Beem weighs in this morning with is thoughts on the painfully slow process of finalizing America’s embrace of marriage equality.

The waiting game: Marriage equality and the Supreme Court
By Dr. Charles Beem

It has been nearly three months since the triumph of marriage equality in North Carolina, and it appears that the institution of heterosexual marriage has survived intact. For the LGBT community in North Carolina, it is the one bright spot in an otherwise dismal couple of years, which has seen this state slide from purple to red and all the attendant regression in health care, education, and civil rights that has accompanied the slide to the right.

Most notorious, of course, was the passage of Amendment One, a sucker punch thrown at the electorate in a May 2012 primary election in which a whopping 34% of registered voters participated, which, from hindsight, was sort of like a state passing a law prohibiting interracial marriage on the eve of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia (1967). After a federal appeals court declared the amendment unconstitutional last October, we witnessed the spectacle of conservative legislative leaders spending your tax dollars to try to defend the amendment, which reminds me of the soldiers who fanatically defended Hitler’s bunker from the Russians after he was dead!

Yet despite the momentous gains made for marriage equality in 2014, there is still cause to worry. Quite unlike the Warren Court that ruled unanimously in Loving in 1967, the current U.S. Supreme Court is quite obviously divided on an issue that a majority of Americans are coming to believe is a natural and logical, if not inevitable, progression of civil rights. Read More

News

The judge in two of the same-sex marriage cases pending in North Carolina  issued an order this afternoon requiring the parties to file reports within 10 days, detailing how the court should proceed in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to review a Fourth Circuit decision rejecting Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional.

Saying that it appeared that the couples challenging the state’s marriage ban were entitled to a preliminary injunction blocking the enforcement of that ban, U.S. District Judge William  L. Osteen Jr. asked the parties in Fisher-Borne v. Smith and Gerber v. Cooper to provide him with additional information needed to bring the cases to a close:

In light of the foregoing, this court orders that the parties file a status report, without argument, detailing the following matters: (1) whether the parties agree with this court’s suggestion as to the effect of [the Fourth Circuit decision] on this case as set out herein; (2) whether any discovery is required as to either of these cases prior to proceeding to summary judgment; (3) what issues remain for resolution by this court in each of these cases with respect to the challenged adoption laws; and (4) what the parties suggest in terms of additional briefing on any remaining issues.

Two other same-sex marriage cases are pending in federal court here:

General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, filed in federal court in Charlotte on behalf of same-sex couples and four national religious denominations – the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Central Conference of American Rabbis – in addition to Episcopalian, Jewish and Baptist clergy from across North Carolina. The same-sex couples are seeking the freedom to marry and the clergy are seeking the religious freedom to perform wedding ceremonies for such couples.

McCrory v. Cooper, filed in March in federal court in Asheville by two women who’ve been together for more than 25 years and were legally married in New York in 2013.

No court action has occurred in those cases yet following today’s Supreme Court rulings.

Tomorrow morning, representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Equality North Carolina, and plaintiffs challenging North Carolina’s marriage ban will speak at a press conference in Raleigh about what the U.S. Supreme Court decision means for same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry in North Carolina.

The press conference will be held at 10 a.m. at the LGBT Center of Raleigh, 324 S Harrington St, Raleigh, NC 27603