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US Bankruptcy Court rules DOMA unconstitutional

DOMA trials

By Adam Bink

In a case involving two married gay men in California, the US Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California ruled DOMA unconstitutional today. The two men, married prior to the passage of Prop 8, jointly filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. At issue is whether or not they could jointly do so.

Memorandum of decision:

[scribd id=57794777 key=key-1a6jppbfzranqjx269xx mode=list]
The court’s conclusion:

The Debtors have demonstrated that DOMA violates their equal protection rights afforded under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, either under heightened scrutiny or under rational basis review. Debtors also have demonstrated that there is no valid governmental basis for DOMA.

In the end, the court finds that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of the Debtors as recognized under the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. No one expressed the Debtors’ view as pertinent to this simple bankruptcy case more eloquently and profoundly than Justice William O. Douglas in the concluding paragraph of his opinion for the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486(1965):

“We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights—older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not in political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.”

Upon consideration of the pleadings and all other materials filed in this case, and for good cause shown, the court finds that the Debtors satisfy every legal requirement to pursue their joint petition as filed pursuant to § 302(a). For the reasons stated herein and in the Debtors’ Opposition to the Motion and Debtors’ supporting authorities, the Motion to Dismiss Debtors’ chapter 13 case based on § 1307(c) is denied.

Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner has a closer look.

32 Comments

  • 1. JonT  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:17 pm

    'As the Debtors state, “[T]he only issue in this Bankruptcy Case is whether
    some legally married couples are entitled to fewer rights than other legally married
    couples, based solely on a factor (the gender and/or sexual orientation of the parties in
    the union) that finds no support in the Bankruptcy Code or Rules and should be a
    constitutional irrelevancy.”
    '

    Neat 🙂

  • 2. Straight Ally #3008  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    How many DOMA cases have been decided now? Which will get to the Supreme Court first, and how soon? Enough of this farce.

  • 3. Sagesse  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Wow. And Paul Clement never even saw it coming. He can get in on the appeal tho. I love each one of the new DOMA cases. The more there are, the more expensive it is to defend them all.

  • 4. JonT  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, acting through the United States
    Trustee, at the last minute orally requested a short continuance of the May 17 hearing in
    order to determine whether to intervene in this case to address the issues. Debtors
    consented and the court granted the request; yet, there have been no further pleadings
    and no challenge from the government to any issue raised by the Debtors. The
    government’s non-response to the Debtors’ challenges is noteworthy.

    Noteworthy indeed 🙂

  • 5. Ronnie  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    Knock 'em down… roll 'em around go away DOMA….. SHOO!!!!…..GIT!!!!…..<3…Ronnie

  • 6. JonT  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Wow – A good read, I highly recommend it. They quote the Prop 8 case 🙂

    I liked this part the best though (and they go into more detail afterward):

    The court concludes that dismissal of the bankruptcy case will not advance any of the following
    governmental interests:

    ● Encouraging responsible procreating and child-bearing (the Debtors have
    no children, and even if they did, there is no basis in the evidence or
    authorities to conclude that Debtors’ joint bankruptcy filing would affect
    Debtors’ children (if any, later) differently from children in other “traditional”
    joint bankruptcy cases);

    ● Defending or nurturing the institution of traditional heterosexual marriage
    (the Debtors are already married to each other, and allowing them to
    proceed jointly in this bankruptcy case cannot have the slightest
    cognizable effect on anyone else’s marriage);

    ● Defending traditional notions of morality (the Debtors’ joint bankruptcy
    filing is in no sense discernible to the court to be a validly challengeable
    affront to morality, traditional or otherwise, under the Fifth Amendment); or

    ● Preserving scarce resources (no governmental resources are implicated
    by the Debtors’ bankruptcy case different from the resources brought to
    bear routinely in thousands upon thousands of joint bankruptcy cases filed
    over the years).

    Oh yes. 🙂

  • 7. davep  |  June 13, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Oh my, this stuff is awesome! It really points out just how ridiculous it is to think there could be any possible reason to treat legally married gay people differently than legally married straight people, which is exactly what DOMA does. These comments simultaneously point out how there are endless examples of how being legally married has tangible legal benefits and responsibilities (that anti-marriage equality folks insist are not significant or relevant and that we really don't need or shouldn't want), while at the same time pointing out that DOMA accomplished nothing more than throwing a wrench into the legal system, not to mention into the lives of these legally married couples, and then points out how none of these specifics of someone's marriage have ANY EFFECT AT ALL on other marriages. Nice!

  • 8. Ann S.  |  June 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    §

  • 9. Owen DeLong  |  June 13, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Am I the only one who noticed that the equal protection clause that the judges are referring to is contained in the Fourteenth amendment and not the Fifth amendment which provides a right against self-incrimination?

    I agree it's a great ruling, but, as to the judges understanding of the applicable constitutional law, it's kind of an epic judicial fail.

    Owen

  • 10. sneaks911  |  June 14, 2011 at 7:12 am

    Actually, they state they are referring to both the 5th and 14th.

  • 11. Rob Pfister  |  June 14, 2011 at 8:09 am

    The Court did not make a mistake: The Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause applies only to states, not the federal government. However, the Supreme Court has held since at least 1954 that the Fifth Amendment's due process clause requires the federal government to treat people equally, too. It's a subtle legal point, but the Court's opinion is 100% correct. (Full disclosure: I am one of the lawyers for the Debtors in the case.)

  • 12. Maggie4NoH8  |  June 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

    Congratulations Mr. Pfister!

  • 13. Joe  |  June 15, 2011 at 5:39 am

    So Mr. Pfister – Now you'd better ask the court to declare BAPCPA unconstututional as well.

    For instance, take a look at 11 USC 101(A)(10A):

    "(10A) The term “current monthly income”—
    (A) means the average monthly income from all sources that the debtor receives (or in a joint case the debtor and the debtor’s spouse receive) without regard to whether such income is taxable income, derived during the 6-month period ending…"

    Since you've just had the term "Spouse" as used by congress in enacting this law defining current monthly income declared unconstitutional, this law is also unconstitutional.

    Perhaps you forgot this little part of our US Constitution:

    Article I, Section 8:

    "The Congress shall have the power:"

    "To establish … uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States;"

    By declaring the term "spouse" as defined by DOMA and used by Congress pursuant to that definition in enacting 11 USC 101(A)(10A) as unconstitutional, you have just undone a "uniform" law and made it non uniform, subject to the whim of a state law definition of who is married and who is not.

    Thus, bankruptcy law is no longer uniform between states that dont recognize same sex marriage and those that do.

  • 14. AnonyGrl  |  June 15, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Precisely what we have been saying all along, Joe. DOMA is unconstitutional and should be REMOVED from all 50 states.

    🙂

  • 15. Ann S.  |  June 15, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Congratulations, Mr. Pfister, and feel free to ignore Joe's remarks. He's one of our resident gadflies. Those of us on the side of equality are extremely happy with the court's decision in your case. I've been discussing it with some people in another forum as well, and they are equally thrilled.

  • 16. Ғĕłỹҳ  |  June 13, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    "The government's non-response to the debtors' challenges is telling."

    No kidding! Defending the ability to treat 'different things differently' (i.e. blatant discrimination) is tough work! But at least Paul will get paid well… maybe… if it isn't illegal that is. LOL! (It just gets better and better!)

    So I really wonder what is going to happen. The house didn't confirm the money and the DOJ ain't forking it over (and probably doesn't even have to) leaving The General Counsel and the House with a serious problem. From where is the money coming? Can the government take donations from NOM? Will a cool half mil even come close to providing even the minimal resources needed to defend the onslaught of cases? Will Clemente even get paid at all?…!!!

    Best case senario… Clemente not only doesn't get paid but has to privately pay for everything he spent AND Boehner gets fined AND imprisoned!

    So it is no surprise that "The government's non-response […] is telling."Oh well, 'comeuppance' happens!

    (Side note: This edit feature is way fabulous!)

  • 17. Str8Grandmother  |  June 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm

    Really good comment Felyx

  • 18. celdd  |  June 13, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    I read it too and liked it a lot. They referenced Witt, Straus, Perry and many more. It is interesting that they gave BLAG and Clement a chance for input and delayed a hearing to accomodate them, but BLAG and Clement never responded, so the judge went ahead with the opinion.

    Also significant – the opinion was signed by 20 of the 24 or so judges on that bankruptcy court.

  • 19. Str8Grandmother  |  June 13, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    THAT is significant signed by 20 of 24 Judges. Take THAT Maggie!

  • 20. Charlie Galvin  |  June 13, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    THAT's the part that caught my eye. Can't wait for the opposition to complain that this order should be vacated because these twenty activist judges should have recused themselves. Obviously every last one of them is homosexual. And they all want to get married to a same-sex spouse and reorganize their debts.

  • 21. BK  |  June 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    “We don’t need no stinkin’ input!”

    😛

  • 22. Str8Grandmother  |  June 13, 2011 at 10:45 pm

    What a read! I just finished it. This opinion is truly a thing of Beauty, and signed by 20 Judges. Kudos to the Plaintiffs lawyers who didn't back down, they went beyond their practice of Bankruptcy and sought and gained Due Process for their clients and for all of us who care deeply about ending the DISCRIMINATION against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender United States Citizens.

  • 23. Sagesse  |  June 14, 2011 at 4:35 am

    As the most recent census data is analyzed, expect more information like this to flow.

    "About 19 percent of same-sex couples raising children reported having an adopted child in the house in 2009, up from just 8 percent in 2000, according to Gary Gates, a demographer at the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. "

    Adoptions by Gay Couples Rise, Despite Barriers
    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/14/us/14adoption.h

  • 24. Joe Smith  |  June 14, 2011 at 6:41 am

    Don’t get to excited, this is an Article I court. Article I court decisions don’t have teeth, unlike Article III courts.

  • 25. Don in Texas  |  June 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

    This is an awesome opinion that belongs in the library of every person who is dedicated to preservation of constitutional rights!

  • 26. Str8Grandmother  |  June 14, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Yeah Don!!! A thing of Beauty, signed by 20 Judges. I am really super excited about this. The fact that TWENTY Judges signed this, it is not like a sole single Judge gives a verdict, TWENTY Judges signed this opinion. If that doesn't give us encouragement to hang in their as Prop 8 slowly moves through the courts I don't know what would. Of course one is for Marriage and one is for DOMA but the concept to me is the same, ending the DISCRIMINATION. This one is a keeper for me, I downloaded and saved it.

  • 27. Maggie4NoH8  |  June 14, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Whoa!!! That's pretty much a smack down!

    I get the impression *somebody* is getting a little tired of hearing the same ol' tired arguments against equality? LOL

    I LOVE IT! I just wished it had been a little sooner so that AFER could have been used in court!

  • 28. Str8Grandmother  |  June 14, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    That is a keen observation. Let's wait and see in the future for this to show up in other court cases. When it does show up I'm pretty sure a big deal will be made of the fact that it was signed by 20 Judges. I hadn't thought of that before you mentioned it.

  • 29. Glen  |  June 14, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    My understanding is that a bankruptcy court is like a trial court, with just one judge hearing a case. Does anyone know if it is unusual that 20 judges of the bankruptcy court signed this decision?

  • 30. Tim  |  June 15, 2011 at 5:17 am

    It is!

  • 31. Joe  |  June 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Luckily, bankruptcy judges are not appointed for life, like article III judges. So, they can be easily removed.

  • 32. Espressomaschinen  |  November 4, 2011 at 3:35 am

    This opinion is truly a thing of Beauty, and signed by 20 Judges. Kudos to the Plaintiffs lawyers who didn't back down, they went beyond their practice of Bankruptcy and sought and gained Due Process for their clients and for all of us who care deeply about ending the DISCRIMINATION against gays, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender United States Citizens.
    Espressomaschinen Berlin

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