Law School Case Brief
United States v. Windsor - 570 U.S. 744, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013)
The requirements of U.S. Const. art. III standing are familiar. First, the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact--an invasion of a legally protected interest which is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of--the injury has to be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant, and not the result of the independent action of some third party not before the court. Third, it must be likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Rules of prudential standing, by contrast, are more flexible rules of federal appellate practice, designed to protect the courts from deciding abstract questions of wide public significance even when other governmental institutions may be more competent to address the questions and even though judicial intervention may be unnecessary to protect individual rights.
The State of New York recognised a same sex marriage between two New York residents, who wed in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. When one of the spouses died in 2009, she left her entire estate to her surviving spouse. When the surviving spouse sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, she was barred from doing so by §3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied recognition of same-sex marriages. Estate tax was paid in the amount of $363,053 and when the surviving spouse sought a refund, the Internal Revenue Service denied the application. A refund suit was filed with the court, contending that DOMA violates the principles of equal protection incorporated in the Fifth Amendment. Upon the grant of a writ of certiorari, the government appealed the judgment of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit which held that the statute was unconstitutional. The case was elevated on a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Should tax exemptions be applied to a surviving spouse of a same sex marriage?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that § 7 was unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that was protected by the Fifth Amendment. The statute was applicable to a wide variety of over 1,000 federal statutes and regulations in addition to the tax exemption, and was directed to a class of persons the state sought to protect by recognizing same-sex marriages, in furtherance of no specific federal policy. The state's decision to give same-sex couples the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import, but the government used the state-defined class for the opposite and improper purpose of imposing restrictions and disabilities, and § 7 which sought to injure the very same-sex class the state sought to protect violated basic due process and equal protection principles by identifying and making unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages.
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