United States v. Windsor

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: December 7, 2012
  • Case #: 12-307
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, 699 F.3d 169 (2012)

Whether section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Fifth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause by defining marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman."

Respondent and her same-sex partner got married in Canada. When she died, Respondent’s partner left her estate to Respondent, and Respondent was required to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

Respondent claimed a deduction under 26 U.S.C. 2056(a) which provides that federal estate taxes do not apply when property is passed to a surviving spouse, but the IRS denied her claim stating that Respondent did not qualify as a “spouse” under section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), 1 U.S.C. §7, which states that “the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Respondent filed suit in district court seeking a refund of the federal estate tax and a declaration that section 3 of DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Although the Department of Justice had defended Section 3 of DOMA previously, upon initiation of this case, the Attorney General sent notification to Congress that upon reexamination he and the President found the section to be unconstitutional. After receiving the letter, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives (BLAG) intervened to defend the statute’s constitutionality. The United States (Petitioner) and BLAG moved to dismiss the case, and the district court denied the motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Respondent. Petitioner and BLAG appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Prior to announcement of a judgment by the Second Circuit, Petitioner filed for a writ of certiorari. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court's ruling and the Supreme Court subsequently granted cert.

On review, both Petitioner and Respondent argue that because section 3 of DOMA discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, heightened scrutiny is the appropriate standard of review, and that section 3 of DOMA fails heightened scrutiny and should be struck down because it unconstitutionally denies equal protection to same-sex couples.

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the Court has directed the parties to brief and argue 1. “Whether the Executive Branch's agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this Court of jurisdiction to decide this case;” and 2. Whether BLAG has Article III standing.

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