At DOMA Hearing, Chief Justice Suggests Gays Are Too Powerful For Equal Protection

During oral arguments this morning, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts appeared to at least entertain the argument by House Republicans that gays and lesbians are too politically powerful for constitutional protection.

Roberts suggested that gays and lesbians must be “politically powerful” because politicians are “falling all over themselves” to endorse gay marriage, according to a tweet by Mother Jones’ Adam Serwer. The brief by Paul Clement, who represented the House of Representatives in defending DOMA, had reasoned that gays and lesbians are winning political battles and “have the attention of lawmakers,” an absurd claim since the “power” assertion is factually inaccurate, and because such an argument would also cancel out protections for racial minorities and women.

Roberts and his fellow conservatives also expressed concern over the White House’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, with Kennedy calling it “very troubling” and Justice Antonin Scalia criticizing the Justice Department’s “new regime.”

By contrast, several of the court’s liberal justices expressed alarm over the impact of DOMA’s actual deprivation of federal marriage benefits on gays and lesbians, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg calling the rights left for married couples after DOMA “skim milk” and questioning, “What kind of marriage is this?” Justice Elena Kagan, meanwhile, pointed to evidence from a House of Representatives report that lawmakers passed DOMA with improper motives. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the likely swing vote, repeatedly expressed a different concern with DOMA — that it impinged on state definitions of marriage.