Strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act:
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR, EXECUTOR OF THE
ESTATE OF SPYER, ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR
THE SECOND CIRCUIT
No. 12–307. Argued March 27, 2013—Decided June 26, 2013
“The State of New York recognizes the marriage of New York residents Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who wed in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor.
Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, but was barred from doing so by §3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which amended the Dictionary Act—a
law providing rules of construction for over 1,000 federal laws and
the whole realm of federal regulations—to define “marriage” and
“spouse” as excluding same-sex partners. Windsor paid $363,053 in
estate taxes and sought a refund, which the Internal Revenue Service
denied. Windsor brought this refund suit, contending that DOMA violates the principles of equal protection incorporated in the Fifth
Amendment. While the suit was pending, the Attorney General notified the Speaker of the House of Representatives that the Department of Justice would no longer defend §3’s constitutionality. In response, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the House of
Representatives voted to intervene in the litigation to defend §3’s
constitutionality. The District Court permitted the intervention. On
the merits, the court ruled against the United States, finding §3 unconstitutional and ordering the Treasury to refund Windsor’s tax
with interest. The Second Circuit affirmed. The United States has
not complied with the judgment.
1. This Court has jurisdiction to consider the merits of the case.
This case clearly presented a concrete disagreement between opposing parties that was suitable for judicial resolution in the District
Court, but the Executive’s decision not to defend §3’s constitutionali
ty in court while continuing to deny refunds and assess deficiencies
introduces a complication. Given the Government’s concession, amicus contends, once the District Court ordered the refund, the case
should have ended and the appeal been dismissed. But this argument elides the distinction between Article III’s jurisdictional requirements and the prudential limits on its exercise, which are “essentially matters of judicial self-governance.” Warth v. Seldin, 422
U. S. 490, 500. Here, the United States retains a stake sufficient to
support Article III jurisdiction on appeal and in this Court. The refund it was ordered to pay Windsor is “a real and immediate economic injury,” Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., 551 U. S.
587, 599, even if the Executive disagrees with §3 of DOMA. Windsor’s ongoing claim for funds that the United States refuses to pay
thus establishes a controversy sufficient for Article III jurisdiction.
Cf. INS v. Chadha, 462 U. S. 919.
Prudential considerations, however, demand that there be “concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon
which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions.” Baker v. Carr, 369 U. S. 186, 204. Unlike Article
III requirements—which must be satisfied by the parties before judicial consideration is appropriate—prudential factors that counsel
against hearing this case are subject to “countervailing considerations [that] may outweigh the concerns underlying the usual reluctance to exert judicial power.” Warth, supra, at 500–501. One such
consideration is the extent to which adversarial presentation of the
issues is ensured by the participation of amici curiae prepared to defend with vigor the legislative act’s constitutionality. See Chadha,
supra, at 940. Here, BLAG’s substantial adversarial argument for
§3’s constitutionality satisfies prudential concerns that otherwise
might counsel against hearing an appeal from a decision with which
the principal parties agree. This conclusion does not mean that it is
appropriate for the Executive as a routine exercise to challenge statutes in court instead of making the case to Congress for amendment
or repeal. But this case is not routine, and BLAG’s capable defense
ensures that the prudential issues do not cloud the merits question,
which is of immediate importance to the Federal Government and to
hundreds of thousands of persons. Pp. 5–13.
2. DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of
persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 13–26.
(a) By history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the
separate States. Congress has enacted discrete statutes to regulate
the meaning of marriage in order to further federal policy, but
DOMA, with a directive applicable to over 1,000 federal statues and Cite as: 570 U. S. ____ (2013) 3
the whole realm of federal regulations, has a far greater reach. Its
operation is also directed to a class of persons that the laws of New
York, and of 11 other States, have sought to protect. Assessing the
validity of that intervention requires discussing the historical and
traditional extent of state power and authority over marriage.
Subject to certain constitutional guarantees, see, e.g., Loving v.
Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, “regulation of domestic relations” is “an area
that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the
States,” Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393, 404. The significance of state
responsibilities for the definition and regulation of marriage dates to
the Nation’s beginning; for “when the Constitution was adopted the
common understanding was that the domestic relations of husband
and wife and parent and child were matters reserved to the States,”
Ohio ex rel. Popovici v. Agler, 280 U. S. 379, 383–384. Marriage laws
may vary from State to State, but they are consistent within each
DOMA rejects this long-established precept. The State’s decision
to give this class of persons the right to marry conferred upon them a
dignity and status of immense import. But the Federal Government
uses the state-defined class for the opposite purpose—to impose restrictions and disabilities. The question is whether the resulting injury and indignity is a deprivation of an essential part of the liberty
protected by the Fifth Amendment, since what New York treats as
alike the federal law deems unlike by a law designed to injure the
same class the State seeks to protect. New York’s actions were a
proper exercise of its sovereign authority. They reflect both the
community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning
of equality. Pp. 13–20.
(b) By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect,
DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government. The Constitution’s guarantee of
equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate
treatment of that group. Department of Agriculture v. Moreno, 413
U. S. 528, 534–535. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.
Its unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting
state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of
the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of
their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose
and effect of disapproval of a class recognized and protected by state
law. DOMA’s avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a
disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter
into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority 4 UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR
of the States.
DOMA’s history of enactment and its own text demonstrate that
interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, conferred
by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than
an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence. BLAG’s
arguments are just as candid about the congressional purpose.
DOMA’s operation in practice confirms this purpose. It frustrates
New York’s objective of eliminating inequality by writing inequality
into the entire United States Code.
DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of
state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples
married under the laws of their State, but not others, of both rights
and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes
within the same State. It also forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of
federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic
personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and
protect. Pp. 20–26.
699 F. 3d 169, affirmed”