Tag Archives: constitutional amendment

Appeals court denies stay of Alabama marriage equality order

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit denied the Alabama attorney general’s motion for a stay in Searcy v. Strange and Strawser v. Strange. Unless the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, same-sex couples can begin marrying in the state on Feb. 9.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade struck down Alabama’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying.

As stay requests are evaluated on the basis of a plaintiff’s likelihood to succeed in the case, many court watchers believe it is unlikely that the Supreme Court will act to grant an extended stay, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“There is no justifiable reason to continue enforcing discriminatory marriage bans after a clear court order striking them down,” said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow.

“This confirms what we already knew — that LGBT Alabamians have the constitutional right to marry, regardless of who they love. The time has come for loving and committed couples from Florence and Huntsville to the Gulf Coast to be able to marry in the state they call home,” added HRC Alabama state director Ashley Jackson.

The plaintiffs in the case are Cari Searcy and Kimberly McKeand. Their attorneys are Christine Hernandez and David Kennedy, James Strawser and John Humphrey, recently joined in court by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Critics: Effort to change method of selecting state’s chief justice is a partisan attack

The left-leaning Center on Media and Democracy called it “a coordinated GOP attack” on Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Neil Heinen, editorial director of WISC-TV in Madison, said it “borders on frivolous abuse of the constitutional amending process.” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized that Republicans apparently want “to retroactively overturn an election.”

At issue is a proposed state constitutional amendment to change how the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s chief justice is selected. The measure, backed by Republicans, is on its way to passing a second consecutive legislative session, in time to appear on the April 7 ballot.

The change would end the state’s 126-year tradition of having the court’s longest-tenured justice serve as chief, the administrative head of the state court system. Instead, the court’s seven members would elect their leader every two years.

Abrahamson has blasted this amendment, along with a GOP proposal to impose a mandatory retirement age on judges, per an earlier constitutional amendment: “The Wisconsin Constitution should not be used to target judges. If the Legislature adopts these proposals, it is frustrating the electorate and injecting the ugliness of partisan politics into the judiciary, a nonpartisan independent branch of government.”

Appointed in 1976, Abrahamson went on to win four elections to become the longest-serving justice in state history, including 18 years as chief. Considered a court liberal, she is known nationally for her keen intellect, deep knowledge and hard work.

She also has a sense of humor. At an event honoring a courthouse reporter in 2012, Abrahamson noted that the court was once considered a sleepy institution. “Not on my watch,” she cracked.

Today’s Wisconsin Supreme Court is rife with controversy and internal conflict, including a 2011 incident in which Justice David Prosser placed his hands around another justice’s neck. Two other conservative justices have been targets of ethics investigations.

If the amendment passes, Abrahamson, 81, would likely be replaced as chief by Justice Patience Roggensack, a leader of the court’s conservative majority. That would tighten conservatives’ control of the judicial branch — at a time when the court is poised to take on legal issues at the heart of the John Doe probe involving Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

John Nichols, associate editor of The Capital Times, recently argued that the question of who should be chief justice was decided by voters in 2009, when Abrahamson was handily re-elected over challenger Randy Koschnick, a judge in Jefferson County.

Koschnick, in an interview, disagrees, saying voters were choosing between two candidates, not weighing in on how the chief justice is picked. He supports the amendment, saying at least some of the dysfunction on the court “may come from the fact that you have justices in the majority blocked from administrative rule-making.”

Besides, Koschnick muses, if state conservatives were really so intent on getting rid of Abrahamson, “wouldn’t there have been more financial interest in backing my campaign?” Koschnick, in the 2009 race, was badly outspent.

Proponents insist they are not out to get Abrahamson. Rather, they say the change will promote collegiality by providing an incentive for each justice to be on his or her best behavior. Former Justice Jon Wilcox, speaking in favor of the amendment at a Jan. 8 hearing, said justices vying for this leadership position would “have to get along, just like you do in the Legislature.”

Rimshot, please.

At the hearing, state Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, urged lawmakers to prove the amendment is not an effort to remove Abrahamson by exempting her from its reach. But his efforts to effect this change were rejected.

“We know exactly what is going on here,” Hebl said in an interview. “Clearly, this is going against Shirley.”

But while Hebl sees ample grounds to oppose the amendment, he expects voters to approve it. The public, he said, likes the idea of elections and the proposed change, at first glance, “sounds like a good idea.”

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

12 Wisconsin communities to vote on Citizens United repeal

Wisconsin residents in 12 localities will vote on Nov. 4 on non-binding questions asking whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to make clear that a corporation is not a person and money is not speech.

The question is on the ballot in:

• Milwaukee County

• Dunn County

• Green Bay

• Appleton

• Fond du Lac

• Neenah

• Menasha

• Ripon

• Stoughton

• Oregon

• Wausau

• Park Ridge

Already a number of Wisconsin communities have endorsed a constitutional amendment and, if all the ballot questions are approved next Tuesday, the total number in Wisconsin will reach 54.

Nationwide, 16 state legislatures and nearly 600 municipalities have backed an amendment to reverse the Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010.

“The Supreme Court changed the meaning of the 1st Amendment, and we want it changed back,” Mary Laan, the Move To Amend leader in Milwaukee County, in a news release.

“People don’t feel like they’re being represented anymore,” said Rita Pachal, a voter in Wausau. “And, in fact, they’re not. It’s all about the money now.” 

Polls show widespread disapproval of Citizens United across party lines.

“We’re talking about billionaires turning this country into a Russian-style oligarchy, where there are two dozen billionaires who buy the whole political process,” said state Sen. Dale Schultz. “We are awash in money because of Citizens United, and it puts good people in both parties in a difficult situation.”

Wyoming clerks ready to issue marriage licenses to gay couples

Wyoming stood poised today (Oct. 21) to become the latest state to allow gay marriage, bringing the national wave of expanded rights for same-sex couples to a state where the 1998 beating death of Matthew Shepard still influences national perceptions.

The state was scheduled to file a legal notice saying it won’t defend a Wyoming law that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

After that formality, county clerks around the state can begin to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and the state will recognize same-sex unions performed legally elsewhere.

The change is particularly notable in the state where Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student was robbed, tied to a fence and viciously beaten 16 years ago in a rural area outside Laramie. He died days after the attack on Oct. 12, 1998, and two men were convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Shepard’s slaying galvanized a national push for tough penalties for those convicted of targeting victims because of their sexual orientation or race.

A celebration of the long-sought victory by gay rights’ advocates – featuring what could become Wyoming’s first same-sex wedding – was planned for Oct. 21 in Cheyenne.

Wyoming will join several other politically conservative states in allowing gay marriages after a series of court rulings that have struck down bans as unconstitutional. More than 30 states, including now Alaska and Arizona, have begun to recognize same-sex unions in changes triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision Oct. 6 that refused to hear appeals from states that wanted to defend gay marriage bans.

Gay rights supporters have said bans on same-sex unions are violations of 14th Amendment protections that guarantee equal protection under the law and due process. Opponents have said the issue should be decided by states and voters, not courts.

The Rev. Dee Lundgren, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Casper, said she has married about 10 couples who have not had their marriages legally recognized by the state.

“For me,” Lundgren said, “nothing really changes except when I do a same-sex couple there’s the joy of being able to have full legal rights, which I think is a huge issue for emotionally and spiritually just validating families.”

Federal judge strikes down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage

A federal judge on Oct. 17 issued a ruling striking down Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage, which paves the way for same-sex couples to get married in the western state.

U.S. District Judge John Sedwick issued the ruling, ordering Arizona to “permanently cease” its ban on gay marriage. He did not issue a stay.

ACLU of Arizona executive director Alessandra Soler responded this afternoon, “Today’s ruling brings security to thousands of families in Arizona. It’s a moment to be celebrated. Equal protection of the law is one of the fundamental principles that allows our country to thrive and evolve. Dismantling this discriminatory ban brings our state and nation closer to our founding ideals of fairness, justice and liberty. We will continue to fight for equality for all Arizonans and oppose any efforts to unravel today’s historic victory.”

Soler continued, “Today we celebrate the court’s recognition that every individual in Arizona has the freedom to marry the person they love. We hope that Attorney General Tom Horne will honor the court’s ruling and allow marriage licenses to be issued immediately.”

Gay couples in Phoenix began lining up at the courthouse to apply for licenses soon after learning of the court’s decision. 

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement that federal courts have thwarted the will of voters and eroded the state’s power to regulate.

The right-wing Republican said, “Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas. It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed.”

The decision follows a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which said on Oct. 7 that gay marriage prohibitions in Nevada and Idaho violated the equal-protection rights of same-sex couples.

Also, last week the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from five states — including Wisconsin — seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. On Oct. 17, the Justice Department said it would recognize same-sex marriages from those states.

There are now at least 30 states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Senate Republicans defeat amendment on campaign spending

Senate Republicans on Sept. 11 defeated a measure to advance a proposed amendment to rein in campaign spending by businesses, wealthy donors and candidates.

But the defeat was anticipated. And even if the measure had passed in the Senate, it would have gone nowhere in the GOP-controlled House.

The vote on Sept. 11, after several days of debate, was 54-42. Sixty votes were needed to keep the amendment alive.

Republicans opposed the measure, saying it would stifle free speech.

“The U.S. Senate took a historic step forward this week in debating the Democracy for All amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision,” said Nick Nyhart, CEO and president of Public Campaign.

He added, “An overwhelming majority of the American people support efforts to rein in our unsustainable campaign finance system and now they know who is on their side in Washington, D.C. This week’s debate was an important benchmark in the crucial fight to create a fairer democracy that’s truly of, by, and for the people.”

Mike Russo of U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups, called the vote a milestone and added that amending the Constitution was not meant to be easy. “We know that the public overwhelmingly supports getting big money out of politics,” he said. Today’s vote is just the beginning and marks a big step forward in the movement to reclaim democracy.”

In 2012, 32 super PAC donors spent as much as all 3.7 million donors to the campaigns of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

“The Citizens United decision unleashed a tide of big money from mega-donors and super PACs into our elections,” said Russo.

He added, “But far from accepting this as a new status quo, Americans have been fighting back. In just a few short years, 16 states and more than 550 cities and localities across the country have enacted resolutions calling on Congress to pass an amendment to overturn Citizens United. Today, a majority of the U.S. Senate answered that call.”

A number of localities in Wisconsin face Nov. 4 votes on non-binding resolutions for campaign finance reform.

Editor’s note: This story will be updated.

3rd Florida court strikes down amendment barring same-sex marriage

A third circuit court in Florida has struck down the state’s constitutional amendment denying recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages and barring gay couples from marrying within the state.

The ruling on Aug. 4 came from Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen, who said the amendment is unconstitutional. The decision applies only to Broward County.

Cohen is the third judge to rule against the state ban since early July.
Said Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, “Every win in court brings us closer than we’ve ever been to the freedom to marry in Florida. We look forward to the day when all loving, committed couples and their families enjoy the same protections, opportunities and responsibilities of marriage under the law.  Every passing day inflicts real hardships on families who are denied the legal protection and dignity that marriage equality provides.”

Cohen’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by Heather Brassner, who had entered into a civil union in Vermont and sought a divorce in Florida. The judge had indicated that he was not prepared to grant the divorce without addressing the constitutionality of the same-sex marriage ban — and the same-sex marriage recognition ban, according to Nancy Brodzki, Brassner’s attorney.

So Brodzki filed a motion for the judge to rule on the amendment.

The judge issued an immediate stay on his ruling, which means same-sex couples cannot marry in Broward County.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has appealed the judges’ decision in the Miami-Dade and Monroe County cases and is expected to appeal the Broward decision as well.
Last week, Equality Florida delivered more than 7,000 petitions to Bondi’s office, calling on the attorney general to drop her appeals. Similar campaigns are being developed in South Carolina and Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin Supreme Court upholds domestic partner registry

The Wisconsin Supreme Court early on July 31 issued its ruling in a dispute over whether the domestic partnership registry violates the state constitutional amendment barring the recognition of same-sex marriage. The state’s highest court upheld the law creating the partnership program, which provides limited benefits and securities to gay couples.

There was no dissent in the court’s finding, which affirmed a lower court ruling.

In 2006, voters approved a constitutional amendment barring same-sex couples from marrying in the state and barring recognition of same-sex marriages from out of state. The amendment said, “Only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state. A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized in this state.”

A Democratic campaign to provide some support to same-sex couples resulted in passage of the domestic partner registry, which was signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.

Julaine Appling, executive director of the ultra-right Wisconsin Family Action, led a legal challenge, alleging that the partnership registry is like marriage and in conflict with the constitutional amendment. The registry provides limited benefits and protections, including hospital visitation and the ability to take a family medical leave to care for a sick or injured partner.

A lower court upheld the partnership registry and the state supreme court has affirmed the ruling in the case.

Justice N. Patrick Crooks wrote the opinion for the court, and noted when voters were considering the amendment that there were assurances from “Amendment proponents that the Amendment simply would not preclude a mechanism for legislative grants of certain rights to same-sex couples.”

Lambda Legal defended the domestic partnership registry on behalf of Fair Wisconsin, a statewide LGBT civil rights group, and five couples. Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen refused to defend the law that created the registry.

“We’re thrilled that Wisconsin same-sex couples can keep the limited but very important protections that the domestic partnership registry grants them,” said Christopher Clark, counsel for Lambda, in a news release issued early on July 31. “The statute is clearly constitutional, and the Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed with us. Gay and lesbian couples in Wisconsin no longer have to fear that the protections they have will be taken away by unnecessary anti-gay legal action.”

Clark said, “We also look forward to the day — fast approaching — when Wisconsin will join its neighbors to the south and west and the growing number of states across the country where same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, rendering limited domestic partnership registry unnecessary.  Wisconsin same-sex couples are entitled to the full range of legal protections that only marriage provides.”

After the partnership case was argued to the supreme court, a federal court has overturned the constitutional amendment against marriage equality. Oral argument in the appeal in the federal marriage equality case is set for Aug. 26 in Chicago.

“The Wisconsin State Legislature created the domestic partnership registry in accordance with the laws of the state, and we’re glad that we can finally move on from this long and unnecessary battle. We’re happy for the thousands of same-sex couples in Wisconsin that need the domestic partnership registry to protect themselves and their families.” said Katie Belanger, President and CEO of Fair Wisconsin. “Wisconsin’s gay and lesbian couples can now rest a little easier, and we’re thankful for that. We must now continue to focus our attention on securing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples in Wisconsin.”

Appling, in a statement, said, “While we are disappointed that the Wisconsin Supreme Court did not agree with us, what’s important is that marriage remains between one man and one woman in Wisconsin and that even in this ruling, the court recognized that marriage is unique and nothing like relationships formed by same-sex couples.”

The supreme court, on July 31, also issued rulings upholding the anti-union Act 10 and the voter ID law.

Walker’s office has released a short statement under the headline, “Governor Scott Walker’s reforms upheld in all Supreme Court cases.” The statement contained statements from the governor on the Act 10 and voter ID law rulings but did not mention the domestic partnership ruling.

See also officials’ reactions to today’s rulings.

Did you know…

About 2,300 couples have joined Wisconsin’s domestic partnership registry over the past five years.

More than 500 same-sex couples married in Wisconsin in just a few days in early June, before a stay was issued in the federal marriage equality case.

Editor’s note: This is a developing story.

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Colorado court rules against gay marriage ban

Adams County District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree has ruled against Colorado’s constitutional amendment banning marriage equality.

In Brinkman v. Long, attorneys sued Colorado on behalf of a same-sex couple who argue that state ban on marriage equality violates the state and U.S. constitutions.

“The Court holds that the Marriage Bans violate plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution The existence of civil unions is further evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples and does not ameliorate the discriminatory effect of Marriage Bans,” wrote Crabtree, who issued a stay with his of July 9 decision.

At the Human Rights Campaign, legal director Sarah Warbelow said, “It is fitting that today, the 146th anniversary of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that a Colorado court has struck down the state’s discriminatory marriage ban relying on the equal protection clause. These marriage bans will continue to fall because the Constitution does not allow for such blatant discrimination.”

Same-sex couples can marry in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Gay couples have married in other states, where judges ruled against marriage bans.

Gallup puts support for marriage equality in the United States at 55 percent, some 15 points higher than in polls five years ago.

Polls also show support for marriage equality growing with every demographic group.

In June, after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah’s anti-gay ban, the clerk in Boulder County, Colorado, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Also, Colorado’s governor and attorney general have asked a court to rule that the marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit struck down a similar marriage ban out of Utah.  The Tenth Circuit decision is binding upon all states within its jurisdiction, including Colorado.

On July 10, after learning of the ruling from the Adams County District Court, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said, “I am thrilled that Judge Crabtree has recognized that the Colorado ban on same sex marriage is a violation of due process and equal protection guarantees under the 14th Amendment.

Polis, who is gay, continued, “More than that, he has recognized, as many of his peers across the country have, that marriage should be an institution of love and commitment, not prohibition and discrimination. I look forward to his ruling being upheld by the higher courts, and am confident marriage equality in Colorado is within sight.”

There are more than 70 court cases challenging marriage bans across the country. Cases from 10 states are pending before six federal appeals courts.

Coalition urges constitutional amendment to rein in campaign spending

Several dozen groups representing an array of interests called this week on the U.S. Senate to back a constitutional amendment to rein in out-of-control campaign spending.

The groups, in a letter to senators, urged support for S.J. Res. 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to establish that Congress and the states have the power to regulate and limit election spending.

“We know that America will never deliver on its promise if our election system is dominated by big money interests,” wrote advocates of the amendment, including Public Citizen, USAction, Common Cause, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, National Education Association, NAACP, Franciscan Action Network, Pesticide Action Network and Communications Workers of America.

S.J. Res. 19 would overturn Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and McCutcheon v. FEC. The amendment also would overturn the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling, which established the doctrine colloquially known as “money equals speech.”

The letter said: “America faces great and serious challenges — putting people back to work, addressing deepening inequality, averting catastrophic climate change, fixing our schools, ensuring quality and affordable health care for all, and much more. Our country has the wealth and wherewithal, and the creativity and conscience, to meet these challenges. But we will fall short unless we repair our democracy.

“We do not lightly call for amending our great Constitution. But we know that there can be no greater constitutional purpose than ensuring the functioning of our democracy. We urge you in the strongest terms to support S.J. Res. 19, so that it quickly becomes the 28th Amendment to our Constitution.”