Federalism and the DOMA Decision

Federalism and DOMAby Randy Barnett, for SCOTUSblog

Because the logic of Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the majority in Windsor is novel, it is likely to confuse observers as it seems to have confused the dissenters.  So in this post, I want to lay bare this logic, by explaining how it resembles, but also differs from, the federalism argument we made in our “Federalism Scholars” amicus brief (cited by the Court at page 23).

In our brief, we contended that DOMA was unconstitutional because (a) Congress had no enumerated power to regulate or “defend” marriage by imposing its definition on the states, and (b) DOMA was not necessary and proper for carrying into execution any of its enumerated powers.  By operating in so sweeping and undiscriminating a manner, DOMA was exceeded its enumerated powers by enacting a law that by design interfered with the operation of the traditional state regulation of marriage.  But overlooked in debates about our argument, we also made this federalism claim in the context of equal protection:

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