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Federal judge declines to certify state officials’ appeal in Pennsylvania marriage equality case

LGBT Legal Cases Marriage equality Marriage Equality Trials

Pennsylvania state sealA federal judge who is hearing a challenge to Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban declined yesterday to certify an initial appeal by Governor Corbett. The state had asked the judge to allow an appeal of his decision rejecting the state’s arguments that the case is barred by a 1972 Supreme Court decision. In that case, in Baker v. Nelson, the Supreme Court issued a one-sentence dismissal of a challenge to Minnesota’s marriage laws “for want of a substantial federal question.” Pennsylvania officials have argued, like other states defending their anti-gay marriage laws, that Baker means no federal court can hear challenges to laws banning same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court’s decisions in Windsor and other cases mean that the law has shifted enough to allow challenges to go forward, according to the judge’s earlier opinion.

The changes in the law likely mean that an appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals at this stage wouldn’t change the outcome:

U.S. District Judge John Jones on Tuesday rejected the state’s argument that his court lacks the power to hear the case, and suggested that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals would agree with him.

Jones says there’ve been “substantial and far-reaching” developments in how courts treat equal protection and due process rights since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1972 decision that it lacked the jurisdiction to decide whether a Minnesota law banning same-sex marriages violated the Constitution.

The order notes that appeals in the early stages of district court trials are rare, and that “it is manifest” that the law has changed in 40 years. The district court points to other Supreme Court cases related to how lower courts should consider earlier Supreme Court summary dismissals (since the statute allowing mandatory appeals that led to these types of dismissals has been repealed.) The Supreme Court has said that when “doctrinal developments” have changed the way courts view certain challenges, summary dismissals like the one in Baker are “not ironclad”.

Now that an appeal won’t go forward, the case will go to full trial in June.

Thanks to Kathleen Perrin for this filing


  • 1. Wynngard  |  December 18, 2013 at 11:11 am

    Tangentially related: Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett announced that he would support a proposed bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accomodations. (Also, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said that he is "open" to the idea of adding sexual orientation to his state's nondiscrimination law.)

  • 2. Valquiria  |  December 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    This suggests to me that Corbett isn't running for reelection. If he were hoping to be renominated, he'd be ladling on the crazy.

  • 3. bythesea  |  December 18, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    Disagree. He's moving toward the center to position for the GE, not worrying about a primary. He wouldn't bother with this if he were retiring.

  • 4. Chris M.  |  December 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Anyone who seriously thinks Baker is still good law and is willing to spend taxpayer money on lawyers to argue so must have his or her head examined. If that's all they have left in this fight, they're toast.

  • 5. Jim  |  December 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    These GOP governor's are now stating their support for non-discrimination laws. What they won't say is they are now supporting these bills to make them look more moderate since they are up for re-election in 2014. Hopefully the citizens of these states will not be fooled, once again, since they put these bigots in office in the first place.

  • 6. Zack12  |  December 19, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Corbett is toast no matter what.

  • 7. Dr. Z  |  December 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    "It is manifest" ="obvious to anyone with a functioning brain."

  • 8. Dr. Z  |  December 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    New developments in the Ohio DOMA case:

  • 9. truthspew  |  December 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm

    Wow, the bigots lose another round. This isn't surprising. I was talking about this today about how bigoted arguments with a basis steeped in the Biblical texts cannot stand up to cross examination in a court. Things really have change, and I think the biggest change is the repeal of deference for religious practice.

    And I hope my brothers and sisters in Pennsylvania prevail in the fight for equality.

  • 10. Mark  |  December 18, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    The Utah transcript now up ( doesn't seem as positive as the initial reports from the hearing–judge certainly asked tough questions of both sides, but seemed considerable more sympathetic to the state.

  • 11. Straight Ally #3008  |  December 19, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Judge Jones does not suffer fools gladly. Remember, he used the term "breathtaking inanity" to describe the actions of the creationists in Kitzmiller v. Dover.

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