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DOMA Struck Down by District Court Judge in Gill and Massachusetts

Judge Joseph Tauro hands down two rulings striking down DOMA as unconstitutional, one for Gill and one for Massachusetts.  In the Gill ruling, Tauro holds that DOMA violates the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, writing, “As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

When a court considers an equal protection challenge to a law that applies certain rules to specific groups of people, that court must decide the level of constitutional scrutiny it will apply.  Essentially, the question before the court when it comes to scrutiny is whether or not a law should be looked at deferentially, as though it is likely to be constitutional, or whether it should be considered critically, as though it is likely to be unconstitutional.

In the Gill decision, Judge Tauro considers DOMA under the most deferential standard of review, rational basis, under which a law must be rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest in order to be held constitutional.  In his opinion, Judge Tauro writes, “This court need not address these arguments [regarding whether or not the more searching strict scrutiny standard is merited] … because DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test. As set forth in detail below, this court is convinced that ‘there exists no fairly conceivable set of facts that could ground a rational relationship’ between DOMA and a legitimate government objective. DOMA, therefore, violates core constitutional principles of equal protection.”

In the Massachusetts ruling, Judge Tauro holds that DOMA also violates both the Tenth Amendment and Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution, writing, “That DOMA plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty—the ability to define the marital status of its citizens—also convinces this court that the statute violates the Tenth Amendment.”

Given the significance of Tauro’s dual-pronged decision, legal observers expect the Obama administration to appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

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