On January 20, 2010, an employee of the federal judiciary married to her same-sex partner under California law filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Francisco Division, under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2202, and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, against the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM). The plaintiff, represented by private counsel and Lambda Legal, asked the court for declaratory and injunctive relief and a review of administrative action, alleging an equal protection violation. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment by refusing to recognize lawful same-sex marriages for purposes of the laws governing spousal health benefits for federal employees, thereby denying her of a benefit that would be available to her if her spouse were of the opposite sex.
The plaintiff, a 19-year employee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, had applied for health benefits for her wife and been denied, and though the Ninth Circuit (Chief Judge Alex Kozinski) then issued an order as part of the employment dispute procedure finding that she was entitled to spousal health benefits, In re Golinski, 587 F.3d 901 (9th Cir. 2009), the OPM had refused to comply. As such, the plaintiff’s initial complaint requested a writ of mandamus to enforce the Ninth Circuit order. On March 16, 2011, however, the District Court (Judge Jeffrey S. White) dismissed this claim, finding that it lacked jurisdiction to issue mandamus relief, Golinski v. U.S. Office of Pers. Mgmt., 781 F. Supp. 2d 967 (N.D. Cal. 2011), and the plaintiff was forced to amend her complaint to request injunctive relief.
Meanwhile, on February 23, 2011, the Department of Justice indicated that it had come to the conclusion that DOMA was unconstitutional and that it would no longer defend the act in court. In response to this, on May 4, 2011, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (BLAG) moved to intervene to defend the act, and their motion was granted on June 3. On the same day, the defendants-intervenors moved to dismiss the complaint.
On July 1, the plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and the Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the plaintiff’s claim.
On February 22, 2012, the District Court (Judge White) granted the plaintiff’s motion and denied that of the defendant-intervenors. Golinski v. U.S. Office of Pers. Mgmt., 824 F. Supp. 2d 968 (N.D. Cal. 2012). The Court stated that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny, but held that the application of DOMA to deny spousal health benefits in this case did not even have a rational basis and thus constituted a violation of the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. It entered a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants from interfering with the enrollment of the plaintiff’s wife in her family health benefits plan.
An appeal by defendants-intervenors to the Ninth Circuit is pending. On May 22, 2012, the Court of Appeals (Judge Sydney R. Thomas) denied the plaintiff's motion for an initial hearing en banc and scheduled arguments before a three-judge panel for the week of September 10-14. On July 3, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition in the Supreme Court for certiorari prior to judgment. That petition was set for consideration by the Court on 11/30/2012. Presumably it will be held without decision while the Court considers the California Prop. 8 case (PB-CA-0029
in this Clearinghouse) and Windsor, the DOMA case from the Second Circuit (PB-NY-0017
in this Clearinghouse), in which the Court granted review on December 7. (Argument on those cases is expected to occur in March 2013.)Christopher Schad - 12/07/2012