Tag Archives: ruling

Court upholds reach of gun ban for domestic violence

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the broad reach of a federal law that bars people with misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning guns.

The justices rejected arguments that the law covers only intentional or knowing acts of abuse and not those committed recklessly — where a person is aware of the risk that an act will cause injury, but not certain it will. As examples, the court mentioned throwing a plate in the heat of an argument, or slamming a door.

The case involved two Maine men who said their guilty pleas for hitting their partners should not disqualify them from gun ownership.

Writing for herself and five other justices, Justice Elena Kagan said that Congress enacted the gun law some 20 years ago to close a loophole and “prohibit domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws from possessing guns.” She said if the law were read to exclude misdemeanors in which a person acted recklessly, it would “substantially undermine the provision’s design.”

Gun-rights groups had argued that Stephen Voisine and William Armstrong III should not lose their constitutional right to bear arms, while advocates for victims of domestic abuse pushed to preserve the restriction.

The case isn’t among the more important ones of the term. White House spokesman Eric Schultz said while the Obama administration is pleased with the ruling, he suggested it wouldn’t have a significant impact on the debate in Congress about gun control, a debate renewed by a mass shooting earlier this month that left 49 people dead at a gay nightclub in Florida.

The case is notable, however, in part because when it was argued on Feb. 29 Justice Clarence Thomas asked a series of questions from the bench, the first time in 10 years that he’d asked a question. His questions came less than a month after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, his close friend, conservative ally and also a strong supporter of gun rights.

Thomas expressed concern at the argument that a misdemeanor conviction could deprive someone of their constitutional gun rights, pressing a government attorney for any other examples when that could happen. He returned to that issue in a dissenting opinion Monday.

“Under the majority’s reading, a single conviction under a state assault statute for recklessly causing an injury to a family member — such as by texting while driving – can now trigger a lifetime ban on gun ownership,” he wrote, adding: “We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined Thomas’ dissent in part, agreeing that if Congress wanted to cover all reckless conduct it could have written the law differently.

The two men who were the subjects of Monday’s decision were convicted of breaking federal law by possessing firearms following misdemeanor convictions for domestic violence. Both men argued that they should not be barred from gun ownership because their convictions could have been based on reckless action, not action that was knowing or intentional.

Voisine pleaded guilty to assault in 2004 after slapping his girlfriend in the face while he was intoxicated. Several years later, an anonymous caller reported that he had shot a bald eagle with a rifle. He was then convicted under the gun law and sentenced to a year in prison.

Armstrong pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife in 2008. A few years later, police searching his home as part of a narcotics investigation discovered firearms and ammunition. He was sentenced to three years of probation.

Transgender student in Illinois wins landmark ruling from Education Dept.

The U.S. Department of Education this week issued a landmark ruling recognizing that Palatine High School District 211 in Illinois is discriminating against a transgender student on the basis of her sex.

The department issued its findings after a lengthy investigation concluding that the suburban district is in violation of federal law for denying a student access to a gender-appropriate locker room for changing clothes, simply because the student is transgender.

Despite protestations from the district over the past two weeks, the department made clear that the school is engaging in harmful discrimination, according to the ACLU of Illinois.

“What our client wants is not hard to understand. She wants to be accepted for who she is and to be treated with dignity and respect – like any other student,” stated John Knight, director of the LGBT & HIV Project of the ACLU of Illinois. “The district’s insistence on separating my client from other students is blatant discrimination. Rather than approaching this issue with sensitivity and dignity, the district has attempted to justify its conduct by challenging my client’s identity as a girl.” 

The written decision, released by the department’s Office of Civil Rights today, finds the district in violation of Title IX for denying a student access to the locker room facilities used by other students solely because the student is transgender. The decision places school districts all across the nation on notice that Title IX requires making such facilities available for students who are transgender. It is the first such decision issued by the department, building on legal briefs and policy statements of the federal government interpreting federal laws prohibiting discrimination.

“This decision makes me extremely happy — because of what it means for me, personally, and for countless others,” said the student, who has not been identified. “The district’s policy stigmatized me, often making me feel like I was not a ‘normal person.’”

“The Department of Education’s decision makes clear that what my school did was wrong. I hope no other student, anywhere, is forced to confront this indignity.  It is a good day for all students, but especially those who are transgender all across the nation.” 

In an effort to pre-empt the Department of Education’s ruling — and frame their discrimination as “reasonable” and “sensible” —District 211 has engaged in what the ACLU called “a comprehensive public relations campaign over the past two weeks.

The ACLU said the school district has mischaracterized the facts in the case and engaged in disparaging remarks, including statements indicating their belief that the young girl is not “really” a girl.

Although the district delayed the release of the findings in an effort to reach an agreement, the department has apparently recognized that the district does not intend to begin complying with the law.

Meanwhile, a student-led petition gathered hundreds of signatures from students and community members supporting the student’s access to the locker room. 

The Education Department concluded that forcing a student to dress in a separate restroom for changing, which in this case was down a long hallway from the locker room, violated Title IX because it separated and stigmatized that student solely because she is transgender. The investigation made clear that the district’s claims about any problems resulting from ending the discrimination were unsupported both because other students were not concerned about the issue and because, in general, girls do not fully undress when getting ready for gym or many sporting activities. And to the extent that any girl wanted extra privacy, the District should offer them private areas to dress rather than isolating students who are transgender.  

“The District’s position is wrong as a matter of science and harmful to all the students of District 211,” Knight said, “Trying to misinform students and tell them that discrimination is acceptable isn’t the kind of conduct we expect from school administrators – and isn’t a message that students are likely to accept.”

Today’s decision is the result of a complaint to the Department of Education in December 2013 on behalf of the young woman. She has identified as a female since a very early age and shared this information with her family several years ago. She transitioned to living full-time as a female and has been doing so ever since.  She and her parents have legally changed her name and obtained a passport listing her gender as female. 

When the young woman entered high school, she and her parents met with school officials to request that she be treated as a female in all ways, including sports, and bathroom and locker room access. She was allowed to use the restroom designated for females, wear the female uniform during physical education class and sports, but was denied use the female locker room when changing. Instead, she was directed to a separate bathroom for changing, a bathroom located down a long hallway from the gym.

Being separated from her classmates and teammates in this way has made her feel stigmatized and different. More than two years ago, her parents began to advocate, urging school officials to reverse this decision. After those efforts were unsuccessful, the parents reached out to the ACLU of Illinois, who wrote to the school explaining why the district was violating Title IX and the Illinois Human Rights Act. Because the district refused to budge, lawyers for the ACLU filed a complaint for the parents with the Department of Education in December of that same year.

For the record: Quotes from the historic court ruling on marriage

Some comments on the historic Supreme Court ruling that gives same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states:

“From this day forward, it will simply be ‘marriage.'” — Lead plaintiff Jim Obergefell.

“There’s so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect.” — President Barack Obama.

“This decision recognizes the fundamental truth that our love is all equal. Today is a great day for America. (hash)LoveWins” — Tweet from first lady Michelle Obama.

“Guided by my faith, I believe in traditional marriage. I believe the Supreme Court should have allowed the states to make this decision. I also believe that we should love our neighbor and respect others, including those making lifetime commitments. ” — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

“I believe that marriage, as the key to strong family life, is the most important institution in our society and should be between one man and one woman. People who disagree with the traditional definition of marriage have the right to change their state laws. That is the right of our people, not the right of the unelected judges or justices of the Supreme Court.” — Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Republican presidential contender.

“While I strongly disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, their ruling is now the law of the land. I call on Congress to make sure deeply held religious views are respected and protected. The government must never force Christians to violate their religious beliefs.” — Dr. Ben Carson, Republican presidential candidate.

“As a result of this decision, the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.” — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination.

“If accepted by Congress and this president, this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment.” — Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination.

“So while we celebrate the progress won today, we must stand firm in our conviction to keep moving forward. For too many LGBT Americans who are subjected to discriminatory laws, true equality is still just out of reach.”—  Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democratic presidential contender.

“We in the faith community have much work yet to do as we seek to end all discrimination against the LGBT community in America and the world,” — The Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral, Washington.

“Every nation has laws limiting who and under what circumstances people can be married. This is because lawmakers have always understood that marriage does not exist just for the mutual satisfaction of the two people involved but for the betterment of society.” — Roman Catholic Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati.

“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acknowledges that following today’s ruling by the Supreme Court, same-sex marriages are now legal in the United States. The Court’s decision does not alter the Lord’s doctrine that marriage is a union between a man and a woman ordained by God. While showing respect for those who think differently, the Church will continue to teach and promote marriage between a man and a woman as a central part of our doctrine and practice.” — The Utah-based Mormon church, in a statement.

“The U.S. bishops now need to reconcile themselves to the new social reality of marriage equality, as it is poised to spread to all 50 states. They can do so by entering into a dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics to learn more about the reality of their lives and how their faith inspires their relationships.” — Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry, a national ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT Catholics and the wider church community.

“Denying couples legal recognition of their relationship opens the door to widespread discrimination. This ruling will help close that door and marks a great step forward for human rights in the United States.” — Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for United Nations Secretary Gen. Ban Ki-Moon.

“It is the law of the land now. It is our opinion that that ruling does stand and they will need to follow it.” — Chris Villines, executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties, whose group is advising clerks on the ruling.

“All human beings are created equal by God and thus deserve to be treated with love, dignity and respect. I am, however, disappointed that the Supreme Court disregarded the democratically-enacted will of millions of Americans by forcing states to redefine the institution of marriage.”— House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“This decision is about creating a future where loving, committed families are able to live with dignity. This is about freedom. This is about love. This is transformative, not only for LGBT families, but for America.” — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D.-Calif.

“I cannot think of a better way of celebrating the conclusion of LGBT Pride Month than the sight of gay and lesbian couples publicly taking their vows and joining their straight peers in showing their love and commitment.”— Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“The phone blew up once the ruling came through. We had all kinds of people calling.” — Nora Dietzel, Boon County, Missouri’s, recorder of deeds.

“This has always been about our religious freedoms and the persecution of those who believe same sex unions are wrong. Now the persecutions will begin.” — Phil Burress, leader of the Citizens for Community Values of Cincinnati, Ohio, which opposes gay marriage.

“No single ruling can fix the scarring prejudice and stereotypes that have plagued good people for so long, but this can go a long way in helping people discover their common humanity.” — Mary Bonauto, the civil rights project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who argued before the court on behalf of gay couples from Michigan and Kentucky.

“Today’s ruling strikes a blow to inequality and discrimination throughout the nation, and that’s good for Americans’ mental health.” — Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, which in 1973 removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

Divided Supreme Court upholds campaign limits for judicial candidates

A divided Supreme Court ruled this week that states can ban judicial candidates from personally asking for campaign contributions. The justices’ 5-4 ruling means that restrictions on soliciting campaign cash can remain in place in 30 states that elect state and local judges. In all, 39 states hold elections for judges and some allow personal appeals for donations.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a rare break with fellow conservatives, said in his majority opinion that laws barring judicial candidates from personally asking for campaign cash do not run afoul of First Amendment free speech rights. He said the state has a compelling interest “in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

“Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot,” Roberts wrote. “A state may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor – and without having personally asked anyone for money.”

The court’s four liberal justices joined Roberts in the majority.

In a sharp dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia called the Florida rule a “wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech” that should be struck down under the First Amendment.

Roberts, who has written other major First Amendment decisions protecting speech rights, might at first glance be a surprising fifth vote to uphold the limits on judicial fundraising. He also previously sided with conservatives in the court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that freed corporations and labor unions from some limits on campaign spending.

But this case could be seen to bring out his role as the leader of the judicial branch, even if he and other appointed federal judges are not affected by the case. Roberts at several points drew a distinction between candidates for judgeships and other offices. The ruling took note of concerns that lawyers, in particular, might have a hard time refusing to contribute when a judge personally asks for campaign money.

Scalia noted in his dissent that the high court in recent years has used the First Amendment to protect depictions of animal torture, sale of violent video games to children and people who lied about having won military medals.

“It’s no great mystery what is going on here,” Scalia wrote. “The judges of this court … evidently consider the preservation of public respect for the courts a policy objective of the highest order. So it is – but so too are preventing animal torture, protecting the innocence of children, and honoring valiant soldiers.”

In a separate dissent, Justice Anthony Kennedy said he wanted to “underscore the irony in the court’s having concluded that the very First Amendment protections judges must enforce should be lessened when a judicial candidate’s own speech is at issue.”

The case of Lanell Williams-Yulee of Tampa, Florida, arose after she signed a mass mailing asking for money for her campaign for a local judgeship and posted the letter on her website. The appeal didn’t bring in a penny, but Williams-Yulee received a public reprimand for violating a Florida Bar rule that bans candidates for elected judgeships from personally soliciting donations.

Lawyers for Williams-Yulee had argued that the rule has a chilling effect on political speech and does nothing to prevent a candidate’s campaign committee from requesting contributions.

Lower courts have been split on the issue in the Florida case.

The justices had previously struck down limits on what judicial candidates can say during campaigns. In 2002, the court struck down rules that were aimed at fostering impartiality among judges and barred candidates for elected judgeships from speaking out on controversial issues.

But in 2009, the court held in a case from West Virginia that elected judges could be forced to step aside from ruling on cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias. Roberts dissented in that case.

The Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance reform advocacy group, praised the decision, but said it was disappointed that “what the court rightly finds untenable in the judicial context – responsiveness to campaign donors – it would tolerate for legislative and executive candidates.”

The case is Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 13-1499.

On the record …

• “The court today has upheld the ability of states to safeguard the integrity of their courts by putting reasonable limits on fundraising by judges and candidates for judicial office,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport. “The plaintiffs in this case apparently saw no problem with permitting judges to make direct appeals for money to lawyers and litigants. It is difficult to imagine a more direct invitation to corruption. We’re gratified that the court’s majority recognized the case as an attack on judicial integrity and was unpersuaded by the plaintiffs’ specious First Amendment arguments.”

• “Tthe Supreme Court recognized the paramount importance of protecting the integrity of our courts,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “At a time of rising spending in judicial elections, rules that preserve the public’s confidence in the judiciary are more important than ever. As the court found, campaign contributions can create an appearance and risk of favoritism. This decision allows states to protect the fairness of our courts.”

•  Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager at Lambda Legal, said, “We are delighted at the decision from the Supreme Court. As the country prepares for another election year, this rule and others like it are critically important to keeping courts fair and making sure that justice cannot be bought. This flood of money has dramatically altered the politics of judicial races, blurring the line that separates justice from politics. The stakes in this case are high with our due process rights at risk. Judges have a responsibility to render decisions based on the law and a firm commitment to the Constitution’s core principles of equality and fairness.”

Poll: No public support for resisting a court order on marriage equality

A new survey shows support for marriage equality continues to expand and that there is virtually no public support for the opponents of marriage equality who have encouraged the public to resist a U.S. Supreme Court ruling — even among voters who oppose marriage equality.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights group, released the results from the national poll commissioned to gauge voter attitudes ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.

“This poll is another conclusive sign that support for marriage equality and LGBT people overall continues to grow. The reality is that eight out of ten Americans now know someone who is LGBT and nearly half of our country knows an LGBT person who is married or in a committed relationship,” said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president for communications. “The violent rhetoric of some of the so-called leaders in the dwindling anti-marriage minority leave them isolated and out touch, even with voters who otherwise support traditional definitions of marriage.” 

This year, the Supreme Court will hear the consolidated case of Obergefell v. Hodges from Ohio, DeBoer v. Snyder from Michigan, Tanco v. Haslam from Tennessee Bourke v. Beshear from Kentucky. With oral arguments set to take place this spring, a ruling is anticipated in late June.

The new polling data comes as the Human Rights Campaign launched The “People’s Brief,” a campaign that allows any American who has read the brief and agrees with its contents to sign on and to show their support for marriage equality directly to the Supreme Court.

Highlights from the poll, which was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner show:

• 60 percent of likely voters support marriage equality, a new high point.

• Nearly half of Americans know an LGBT couple that has gotten married.

• A clear majority of voters favor marriage equality, regardless of where they live.

• Even traditional opponents of marriage equality are becoming more supportive.

• Voters overwhelmingly reject the extreme rhetoric used by Tony Perkins and his allies.

Overall, the survey of likely 2016 voters showed support for marriage equality hits a 60 percent majority.  This number reflects further growth in support and is up from 55 percent support that HRC recorded in a poll taken nearly a year ago and 56 percent support in an ABC News/Washington Post Poll from October 2014.

These findings chronicle a sea change in attitudes: In 1988, only 12 percent of the country believed “homosexual couples had the right to marry one another.”

What’s more, a majority of voters support marriage across the country, regardless of the region they call home. Voters in the Northeast supported marriage equality 72 percent to 25 percent. In the Central states support was 57 percent to 38 percent. Southern state voters supported marriage equality 50 percent to 47 percent, while support in Western states was 70 percent to 28 percent.

Democrats and Independent voters overwhelmingly support marriage equality (Democrats 77 percent to 22 percent; Independents by 63 percent to 31 percent). Republican voters also show significant change. Overall, 35 percent of Republican voters support marriage equality, while 61 percent are opposed. Still, that shows a significant increase in support. In 2011, 70 percent of Republican opposed marriage equality and 19 percent supported.

The anti-marriage margin among Republicans has been cut in half in four years — from 51 points to 26 points. Change is especially pronounced among younger voters — among Republicans under age 50, support grows to 42 percent. 

Similarly, the poll shows massive change among seniors — from 30 percent favor, 60 percent oppose in 2011 to 48 percent favor, 50 percent oppose currently, a 28-point swing.

Polling literature has long recorded the number of voters who “know someone gay” and the rise in this number — 78 percent in this survey — and increased exposure and familiarity with the LGBT community has played a direct role in voters’ growing support for marriage, according to HRC’s interpretation of the survey.

About 46 percent of Americans already know an LGBT couple that’s gotten married or held a commitment ceremony. Those who do know a married LGBT couple support marriage equality 75 to 22 percent.

HRC said the poll also reveals “there is simply no appetite anywhere in this country for the kind of violent, extreme message peddled by those who oppose marriage equality. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and his allies has long predicted that marriage equality could lead to “a revolution.” However, voters soundly rejected his arguments and even among opponents of marriage equality, Perkins’ rhetoric alienates nearly half his base. 

Voters were asked to react to the following statement from Perkins: “I think if the court steps in at this moment and says that we are redefining marriage and that same sex marriage will be the law in every land, I think you will create a firestorm of opposition. This will be the straw that broke the camel’s back. When you look at a nation that is so divided along these moral and cultural issues, you could have a revolt or revolution. I think you could see Americans saying, ‘You know what? Enough of this.’ And I think it could explode and just break this nation apart.”

Only 27 percent agreed with him, while 70 percent disagreed. Voters of all parties disagreed. Only 40 percent of Republicans agreed, while 57 percent disagreed with Perkins. Even among those voters who oppose marriage equality — now just 37 percent of the electorate — more voters disagree with Perkins than agree with him.

The data is based on a national survey conducted in late January among likely voters in the 2016 presidential election.

Arkansas ban on gay marriage overturned in federal court

A federal judge struck down Arkansas’ voter-approved gay marriage ban on Nov. 25 but stopped any rush to the altar by putting her order on hold so the state can consider an appeal.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker ruled in favor of two same-sex couples who had challenged a 2004 constitutional amendment and earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. The couples argued the ban violated the U.S. Constitution and discriminated based on sexual orientation.

“The fact that Amendment 83 was adopted by referendum does not immunize it from federal constitutional scrutiny,” Baker wrote in her ruling.

The state’s marriage laws and the amendment violate the U.S. Constitution by “precluding same-sex couples from exercising their fundamental right to marry in Arkansas, by not recognizing valid same-sex marriages from other states, and by discriminating on the basis of gender,” she wrote.

Baker put the ruling on hold, anticipating an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis.

A spokesman for Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said McDaniel was reviewing the ruling and would decide after the Thanksgiving holiday whether to appeal in consultation with Republican Attorney General-elect Leslie Rutledge.

“We appreciate Judge Baker’s implementation of a stay in this matter in order to avoid confusion and uncertainty as this case goes through the appeals process,” spokesman Aaron Sadler said in an email.

Jack Wagoner, a lawyer for the couples who had told the judge last week that same-sex marriage would eventually be legal nationwide, said he was pleased with her decision.

“She’s on the right side of history,” Wagoner said. “It’s pretty clear where history’s heading on this issue.”

Another lawyer, Cheryl Maples, said eyes would turn now to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments last week in a similar but separate case.

“If the state Supreme Court strikes down on state constitutional issues, then it’s gone as far as it can go,” Maples said.

Justices are weighing whether to uphold Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s decision in May striking down the 2004 amendment and earlier state law as unconstitutional. Piazza’s decision led to 541 same sex couples getting married in the week before the state Supreme Court suspended his ruling.

Justices have not indicated when they will rule in that case. The lawsuit before the state Supreme Court also argues the ban violates Arkansas’ constitution.

The head of the group that campaigned for the ban said he was pleased that Baker suspended her ruling and said he hoped the state would move quickly to appeal.

“It’s our hope that eventually the will of the people of Arkansas will be upheld rather than the wishes of judges,” Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, said.

Lawyers in McDaniel’s office had argued in federal court that same-sex marriage was not a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution. McDaniel has said he personally supports allowing gay couples to marry but will stay in court defending the ban, which voters approved by a 3-1 margin. Rutledge, his successor, has said she opposes gay marriage and has vowed to defend the ban.

Judges across the country have ruled against bans similar to Arkansas’ since the U.S. Supreme Court struck part of a federal anti-gay marriage law in June 2013, and gay marriage is legal in more than half of the U.S.

Chad Griffin, an Arkansas native who heads the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group, praised the judge’s ruling.

“I am proud to be an Arkansan by birth, but I’ll be even prouder when this shameful stain on the state Constitution is erased once and for all,” Griffin said in a statement.

Supreme Court knocks down buffer zone at abortion clinics in Massachusetts

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 struck down a 35-foot protest-free zone outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts.

The justices were unanimous in that ban on protests violates the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, which said there are other ways to deal with protests outside Planned Parenthood centers in Boston, where the case originated.

Roberts wrote that banning protests within 35 feet from clinics throughout the state to deal with a problem at one clinic on one day a week is “hardly a narrowly tailored solution.”

Roberts and four liberal justices struck down the ban on narrow grounds. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a separate opinion that was critical of the Court’s practice of “giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents.”

Proponents of the buffer zone have argued that it is necessary to protect the safety of patients and staff. In 1994, a man shot and killed two receptionists and wounded five others at a clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts.

42 counties issue marriage licenses to gay couples in Wisconsin

Gay couples across Wisconsin rushed to wed on June 10, as more than half of the counties in the state began issuing licenses ahead of an expected hold on a ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison struck down the ban on June 6 in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit challenging the prohibition. But she didn’t order county clerks to begin issuing licenses or block them from handing them out. Instead, she asked the ACLU to submit a proposed order spelling out how the organization wants her decision implemented, which the ACLU did late on June 9.

For now, her stance has left county clerks to decide on their own whether they can legally issue licenses to same-sex couples. Clerks in Milwaukee and Madison, the state’s liberal hubs, began issuing licenses to same-sex couples within hours of the ruling. Together the counties issued 238 licenses on June 6-7.

At least 42 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on June 9, according to a canvass by The Associated Press. Clerks in a handful of counties did not answer phone calls. Many, but not all, also waived the state’s five-day waiting period.

Dozens of couples were initially refused licenses in Appleton, Green Bay and elsewhere on June 9 while county clerks in those communities sought advice from the Wisconsin Vital Records Office, which keeps marriage records. Nearly 100 people at the Outagamie County Clerk’s office in Appleton objected when told they could not apply for licenses.

“We did tell them we weren’t leaving until licenses were issued,” said Kathy Flores, 47, of Appleton, who hopes to marry her partner, Ann Kendzierski.

Soon after, Outagamie County attorney Joe Guidote told couples that he had advised Clerk Lori O’Bright to accept applications for licenses. Flores said later that she knew one couple who received a waiver because a parent was very ill.

Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno said she decided to issue licenses to about 10 couples at her Green Bay office after failing to reach anyone in the Wisconsin Vital Records Office. She said she explained to couples the work would stop as soon as a court put the judge’s decision on hold.

Waukesha County Clerk Kathleen Novack said her office west of Milwaukee began accepting applications for licenses about 9:30 a.m. Monday after she talked to a county attorney, saw what other counties were doing and spoke with waiting couples. Her office had issued about a half-dozen licenses in the first half-hour and expected perhaps two dozen or so more by the end of the day.

The Rock County clerk’s office in Janesville said it issued two licenses before noon on Monday. Kenosha County Clerk Mary T. Schuch-Krebs said she gave a license to one couple who told her they planned to marry that night.

“I don’t see anything that tells me otherwise,” she said.

St. Croix County deputy clerk Cheryl Harmon said a county attorney told her office in Hudson not to issue licenses until after Crabb’s June 16 deadline for the ACLU to submit its proposed order. La Crosse County Clerk Ginny Dankmeyer said her county’s attorney initially gave the same advice but she issued a license later in the day, after Crabb refused Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s request for an emergency order halting the marriages.

But how long the couples’ window stays open is anyone’s guess.

Van Hollen also appealed Crabb’s decision to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and asked it to stop the ceremonies.

“There is absolutely no reason to allow Wisconsin’s county clerks to decide for themselves, on a county-by-county basis, who may and may not lawfully get married in this state,” Van Hollen said in a statement.

Crabb said in rejecting Van Hollen’s request for an emergency hold that clerks weren’t issuing licenses because of anything she did. The judge said since she hasn’t yet issued an order it’s not clear what Van Hollen wants to stop. Once both sides have a chance to weigh in on the scope of the ACLU’s proposed order she’ll decide whether to put it on hold, she said.

The order would require state officials to let gay couples marry and to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. It also would guarantee gay couples who marry the same rights as opposite-sex couples.

The 7th Circuit, meanwhile, could rule at any moment.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said over the weekend he expected Crabb’s order to be put on hold. But he noted that more than 1,000 couples married in Utah before a hold was issued there, and a judge recently said those marriages were valid. That decision, like others related to gay marriage, has been appealed.

Given events around the nation, Tobias said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue next year.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that everything will be fine for those couples,” Tobias said, “but we just don’t know right now.”

Appeals court puts Idaho gay marriage plans on hold

Idaho residents planning to gather today (May 16) at courthouses across the state to celebrate same-sex marriages saw their plans put on hold by a federal appeals court.

Idaho’s gay marriage ban was overturned on May 13, when U.S. District Judge Candy Dale said the law unconstitutionally denied gay and lesbian residents their fundamental right to marry. Dale said Idaho must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting the morning of May 16.

But a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay while it considers whether a longer stay is needed.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden both asked that Dale’s ruling be placed on hold while they appeal.

Dale’s ruling ending the ban came in response to a lawsuit against the governor and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich brought by four same-sex couples. The judge said the ban unconstitutionally denies gay and lesbian couples their fundamental right to marry, and wrongly stigmatizes their families.

In a written statement, Otter said he appreciated the temporary stay, which he said will help avoid chaos and uncertainty.

“Meanwhile, I am proceeding with an aggressive challenge in the appellate court,” Otter said.

So far, gay marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Lawsuits seeking marriage equality are in the legal system in 30 states.

Ohio ordered to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black, in a ruling released today, struck down part of a constitutional amendment in Ohio that denies gay couples the freedom to marry and withholds legal respect for gay couples who have gotten married.

The judge, who previewed his ruling earlier this spring, ordered the state to treat couples married elsewhere like any other couples who marry out of state.

The ruling does not require the state to allow same-sex couples to get married in the jurisdiction of Ohio.

Responding, Evan Wolfson of the Freedom to Marry campaign said, “Couples who are married should be treated as married no matter where they are in the country, including Ohio. Couples should not have to play ‘now you’re married, now you’re not’ as they travel, work, move, or return home. This is a good day for families and businesses in Ohio, and a good day for the Constitution and America.”

The ruling is Black’s second in support of marriage equality.

He said Ohio’s ban on recognizing lawful marriages performed out-of-state for gay and lesbian couples violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Ohio’s marriage recognition bans are facially unconstitutional and unenforceable under any circumstances.”

The state is expected to appeal the ruling.