CUNY Law Review is proud to introduce our latest installation in our ongoing series of web-exclusive pieces for Footnote Forum by our own Prof. Borgmann. For a primer on the procedural history of the Proposition 8 saga that led to Hollingsworth v. Perry, see our interactive graphic walk-through.

Caitlin E. Borgmann*

Click here for a recommended citation and to download a paginated PDF version of this article


One might expect that a Supreme Court decision addressing the constitutionality of a citizen initiative that bars marriage between same-sex couples would yield a predictable political division among both the Justices and Court commentators. Liberal Justices and commentators, one might conjecture, would want the Court to recognize a fundamental constitutional right to marriage equality, while conservative Justices and commentators would prefer the issue be left to the political process. The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry reflected no such tidy outcome, however. The majority opinion addressing California’s Proposition 8 (“Prop 8”), which amended the state’s constitution to exclude same-sex couples from legally recognized marriage, sidestepped the substantive issue through a procedural maneuver. Rather than reach the merits, the Court held that the official proponents of Prop 8, who had defended its constitutionality both in the district court and on appeal, lacked standing to appeal the district court’s opinion invalidating the initiative. The Court’s decision left marriage equality as the rule in California (although not elsewhere). Liberal Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan joined Chief Justice Roberts’s majority opinion, as did Justice Scalia, while conservative Justices Thomas and Alito, and liberal Justice Sotomayor, joined Justice Kennedy’s vigorous dissent. Some liberal commentators who favor marriage equality applauded the Court’s decision.[1]

Continue reading

Prop. 8 Procedural History

[prezi id=”<http://prezi.com/etgn0mra-qd4/perry-v-brown/>”]


We are proud to introduce Prof. Janet Calvo’s discussion of the Windsor decision’s impact on immigration law as part of our ongoing series of web-exclusive pieces by professors, students, practitioners, and others who aim to share timely legal commentary in Footnote Forum, the online companion of the Law Review. For more on this opinion, see Prof. Ruthann Robson’s related piece.

Janet M. Calvo*

Click here for a recommended citation and to download a paginated PDF version of this article.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), barred federal immigration authorities[1] as well as other federal officials from recognizing same-sex marriages. Now that DOMA has been declared unconstitutional in U.S. v. Windsor,[2] the federal officials that implement immigration law have declared that same-sex marriages will be recognized to the same extent as opposite-sex marriages. This has implications for several aspects of immigration law and practice. On July 1, 2013 the Secretary of Homeland Security directed the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse,”[3] and the USCIS posted additional information about implementation.[4] On August 2, the Secretary of State similarly stated “when same-sex spouses apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it will consider the application of opposite-sex spouses,”[5] and the Department of State website provided further detail, in line with the USCIS position.[6]

Further, on July 17, 2013, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) issued a decision[7] stating that DOMA was no longer an impediment to recognition of same-sex marriages; therefore, a same-sex spouse would be recognized under immigration law if the marriage were valid in the state in which it was celebrated, and was bona fide.[8] This case involved the non-citizen same-sex spouse of a U. S. citizen who had filed a petition on behalf of that spouse. The Director’s determination had found that the marriage was valid under the laws of Vermont where the marriage was celebrated, but did not grant the petition. The BIA held that, after Windsor, the sole remaining issue was whether the marriage was bona fide—i.e., whether the marriage was entered into solely for the purposes of immigration—and remanded the case to allow the Director to make that determination.

Continue reading

Case Comment: United States v. Windsor

We are proud to introduce Prof. Ruthann Robson’s comment on United States v. Windsor as part of our ongoing series of web-exclusive pieces by professors, students, practitioners, and others who aim to share timely legal commentary in Footnote Forum, the online companion of the Law Review. For a discussion of this decision’s impact on immigration law, see Prof. Janet Calvo’s related piece.

Ruthann Robson*

Click here for a recommended citation and to download a paginated PDF version of this article.

A landmark. A victory for “gay rights.” An example of judicial activism.

Each of these appellations is an accurate descriptor of the Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, rendered on the last day of the 2012–2013 term. By a bare majority, the Court declared Section 3 of the Congressional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages unconstitutional. The Court resolved the threshold issue of whether it had Article III power to hear the case, given the unusual posture of the litigation, in favor of rendering a decision, unlike the outcome in the companion case of Perry v. Hollingsworth involving the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.[1] The Court’s reasoning included a discussion of Congressional power to pass DOMA, given that marriage and other family matters are generally within the province of the states under federalism as it has developed in the United States. Ultimately, however, the issue was not one of Congressional power. Instead, the majority concluded that DOMA’s Section 3 violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.

The facts underlying United States v. Windsor have been subject to much media attention. Edith Windsor is a sympathetic and charismatic plaintiff, aged 83 at the time of the decision, whose monetarily specific injury consisted of the $363,053 she paid to the federal government in federal estate taxes because of the non-recognition of her same-sex marriage to her deceased partner, Thea Spyer.[2] The couple had been married in Canada in 2007, and their marriage was recognized by their home state of New York when Thea Syper died in 2009, although New York itself did not itself license same-sex marriages until 2011.[3] Thus, except for the operation of DOMA Section 3, Edith Windsor would have been considered a “spouse” under federal law and entitled to the spousal exemption from estate tax.

Continue reading

Reflections on the history and future of the voting rights act in the wake of Shelby County

We are proud to launch Footnote Forum, CUNY Law Review’s new online companion featuring web-exclusive pieces by professors, students, practitioners, and others who aim to share timely legal commentary. Download the inaugural installation, CUNY Law Professor Frank Deale’s Reflections On the History and Future of the Voting Rights Act In the Wake of Shelby County, or keep reading below.

Frank Deale*


At the conclusion of America’s deadliest military conflict, the United States Congress sought to reconstruct a nation torn apart by civil war by enact­ing a program of radical social change designed to eliminate the legal disabilities shouldered by the newly freed African-American male population. Included in the numerous proposals was a series of Amendments to the U.S. Constitution: the 13th Amendment would abolish the institution of slavery; the 14th Amendment would provide equal protection and due process under law to those with former slave status; and the 15th Amendment would enable them to protect these rights via a right to vote, unencumbered by “race” or “color” discrimination. The Congress was empowered to enforce this provi­sion with appropriate legislation.

Less than 50 years after the enactment of these historic provisions, a substan­tial number of African-Americans went to polling stations in the state of Alabama, the home of Shelby County, seeking to register as voters for an upcoming election. In flagrant violation of the language in the Constitution, they were turned away because of their race. Undaunted, over 5,000 of them joined a civil case to enforce the Constitution, which was heard by the Su­preme Court of the United States. The Court correctly understood the gist of the plaintiffs’ complaint, which was that “the great mass of the white popula­tion intends to keep the blacks from voting.”[1] Yet, notwithstanding the stark nature of the facts, the Court denied relief, concluding that:

Continue reading