Elon Law professors provide analysis of historic Supreme Court rulings

This week's rulings on same-sex marriage and Obamacare are prompting legal experts to look carefully at the Supreme Court's deliberations and consider future implications.

Historic rulings this week by the U.S. Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage have prompted faculty members at Elon University School of Law to study details of the court’s opinions and consider the legal basis of the decisions.

Professor Enrique Armijo, Elon University School of Law

Same-sex marriage: Obergefell v. Hodges

“No more waiting”
Professor Enrique Armijo 

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal constitution bars states from banning same-sex marriage. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the author of several prior Court opinions affirming equal rights for same-sex couples, the Court held that because marriage is a fundamental right, bans on that right, whether imposed by state statute or constitutional amendment, violate the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which grants people the right to marry the person of their choice irrespective of gender. Those bans also violate that same Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees that all individuals be treated equally under the law. The Court also held that states must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The Obergefell decision preserves the status quo in over two dozen states where same-sex marriage was already legal, including here in North Carolina, where in October 2014, a federal court, following the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, found that North Carolina’s Amendment One violated the U.S. Constitution. In future cases, courts will now need to decide lots of interesting follow-on questions, such as the constitutionality of the North Carolina Legislature’s recent law permitting the state’s magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons.

The four dissenting justices each wrote separately to take issue with the majority’s decision. Chief Justice Roberts argued that the political process, not the judiciary, should decide whether to expand marriage beyond its long-standing definition of a union between two people of opposite sexes. And agree with it or not, Justice Scalia’s dissent, which sets out his view of the decision’s implications for democratic self-rule, is an all-timer. In the same way that my students read and argue about Scalia’s dissents in abortion rights cases from 25 years ago, the Scalia dissent in Obergefell will be debated in law schools for decades, regardless of how settled the right to same-sex marriage has become. Scalia has often said that he writes his dissents not for the present, but for the future; namely law students, the next generation’s judges, leaders, and legislators. Unfortunately for him, on this issue, Justice Scalia, his three fellow dissenters, and the opponents of same-sex marriage were all on the wrong side of history. The Court said today that the right to marry the person you love can no longer be made to wait for the time it takes for the voters to debate and approve.”

<p>Professor Michael Rich, Elon University School of Law</p>
“Equality’s future post-Supreme Court marriage ruling”
By Professor Michael Rich:

The Supreme Court’s decision today in Obergefell v. Hodges is incredibly clear on the two issues before the Court: states must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the same terms that they issue licenses to opposite-sex couples, and states must recognize same-sex marriages from other states.  What this decision means beyond that is murky, to say the least. Among the unanswered legal questions: Is sexual orientation now entitled to heightened constitutional protection (like gender or race)? What will happen to laws, like the one recently passed by the North Carolina legislature, that allows magistrates to refuse to marry a same-sex couple based on a ‘sincerely held religious objection’? What will be the result in pending and future challenges to laws that forbid bigamy or polygamy? And the broader, societal implications are also unclear: Will, as the dissenting justices suggest, the Supreme Court’s decision to step in on this hotly-debated political question actually put an end to the rising tide in favor of equal rights? Or is the majority just siding with an inevitable push of history?

Affordable Care Act: King v. Burwell

“Context is king in Supreme Court Obamacare ruling”
Professor and Senior Scholar Steven Friedland

<p>Professor&nbsp;Steven&nbsp;Friedland, Elon University School of Law</p>
The Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell resonates on several levels. In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts has emerged as the chief protector of the Affordable Care Act. In interpreting six key words among thousands in the statute, ‘an Exchange established by the State,’ the Court essentially found that it is not what someone says that matters, but rather how and why they say it. Context is king in this decision, so the Affordable Care Act will survive to live intact another day.