Tag Archives: DOMA

13 for ’13

As 2013 draws to a close, here’s a timeline of 13 things we’re thankful for this year.

1) Diversity.  We tried to live up to our illustrious history of diversity and inclusion this year at the BBA.  From amicus briefs defending marriage equality and affirmative action to the Beacon Award, we reasserted our commitment to expanding fairness for all.  This year we released our Diversity and Inclusion Timeline highlighting key events in our history that helped shape our community. 

2) Taking it to the Top.  We started the year off right by advocating for trial court funding with the head of the executive branch, Governor Deval Patrick.  For the first time we sat down and spoke directly to Governor Patrick and his legal staff about this important issue. 

3) Walk to the Hill.  In late January, we proudly participated in the 14th annual Walk to the Hill with 650 lawyers.  Our members used their advocacy skills by speaking to legislators and staffers on the impact civil legal aid funding has in Massachusetts.  We  helped secure $13 million in civil legal aid funding for Fiscal Year 2014.  Please join us for Walk to the Hill 2014, scheduled for Thursday, January 30th.  We hope you’ll join us.  (More information here and here)

4) Protecting Attorney Ethics Consultations.  We were pleased that the SJC ruling reflected a lot of the same thinking as our amicus brief in RFF Family Partnership v. Burns & Levinson, by applying attorney-client privilege to a lawyer’s consultation with in-house ethics counsel.  This issue was an important one for all of our members who practice in law firms, large or small, and for their clients.  The ruling gives lawyers the requisite peace of mind to consult in-house ethics counsel to make sure they act in accordance with the state’s ethics and professional conduct guidelines.

5) Some Clarity on Decanting.  We sought guidance through an amicus brief in Richard Morse, Trustee v. Jonathan A. Kraft et al. This case addressed, for the first time in Massachusetts, a trustee’s power to transfer the assets of one irrevocable trust to another for the same class of beneficiaries. The brief argued in favor of this power, called “decanting,” and urged the court to recognize that it is inherently held by trustees.  The SJC ruled favorably with respect to Morse’s petition, but declined to recognize decanting as an inherent trustee power.

6) BBA Statewide Task Force.  In April, we created the Boston Bar Association Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.  Chaired by past-president J.D. Smeallie, the Task Force features 27 diverse leaders in the state’s legal community from law firms, in-house counsels, academia, the judiciary, legislative, and executive branches, and legal services organizations.  The Task Force is making significant progress in quantifying and assessing both the civil legal aid services currently provided in the state and the needs not being met.

7) Legal Services Discussion.  Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) joined us at the BBA over the summer to talk about the current state of LSC funding, reinforcing the need for bi-partisan support and the importance of connecting with the business community. President Sandman emphasized that legal services is not a social safety net or a poverty relief program.  Legal services are necessary to ensure access to justice for all 

8) Defense of Marriage Equality.  This summer, we celebrated the Supreme Court’s rulings upholding marriage equality in the cases of U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.  Reaffirming our longstanding advocacy efforts for marriage equality, we joined a coalition of other bar associations, civil and human rights groups, and public interest and legal services organizations that signed onto the briefs.  (Read the briefs here and here)

9) Amending the UCC.  On July 1st, Governor Patrick signed into law “An Act making amendments to the uniform commercial code covering general provisions, documents of title and secured transactions.”  We collaborated with the Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Bankers Association to get this bill before the House and Senate for their final approval.  While this law didn’t make big news, it will remove needless obstacles that small businesses run into when trying to secure credit.

10) Paula Carey named Chief Justice of the Trial Court.  We cheered when Paula Carey, former Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court began her post as Chief Justice of the Trial Court this summer.  We look forward to working with her and Court Administrator Harry Spence as the trial court implements its strategic plan.   

11) Judicial Pay Raise.  At long last, the legislature passed a judicial pay raise – an essential step to continuing providing the high quality justice residents of Massachusetts expect and deserve.  Before this legislation, Massachusetts ranked 48th in the nation in judicial compensation. 

The $30,000 raise will take effect in two equal installments; the first increase will be effective January 1, 2014 and the second increase will be effective July 1, 2014. 

12) A Step in the Right Direction for Mandatory Minimum Sentences.  In August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a Justice Department proposal to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, something that the BBA continues to work on at the state level.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offenses is sensible, fiscally responsible, and more protective of public safety.  Repealing mandatory minimum sentences also returns to judges the discretion they need to dispense fair and effective justice.

13) Juvenile Justice.  This summer, the state enacted “An Act expanding juvenile jurisdiction.”  This law, raising the age of jurisdiction for juvenile courts from 17 to 18 years old, was unanimously supported by the BBA Council.  The change moved Massachusetts in line with the majority of other states and, according to researchers, will give minors a greater chance of becoming productive members of society.

2013 was a significant year.  Here’s looking ahead to a great 2014!  Happy holidays!

– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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One Week, Two Supreme Court Decisions and a Legislative Victory

We cheered affirmative action on Monday and by Thursday we were celebrating marriage equality, and, on a less dramatic note, also the fact that the Uniform Commercial Code had passed the Massachusetts Senate.  

• On Monday the Supreme Court, in a 7-1 ruling, remanded the University of Texas’ affirmative action admission case Fisher v. University of Texas et al. back to the U.S. Court of Appeals’ Fifth Circuit for further review.  By remanding the case for further proceedings, the Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to reconsider the case applying strict scrutiny. 

The Supreme Court did not go as far as declaring affirmatively that the use of race in admissions by the University of Texas is permissible, and the debates over affirmative action in higher education are far from over.

Last summer, we worked to put together a coalition to join us on the BBA’s amicus brief in Fisher.  That brief was consistent with the BBA’s long-standing position that race-conscious admissions policies are vital to diversifying the legal profession, and that not having such policies would harm the continued integration of the profession.

• Yesterday we celebrated the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in United States v. Windsor striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The Supreme Court decision affirms that all married couples deserve equal treatment from the federal government. 

In Massachusetts, our Supreme Judicial Court got it right with Goodridge in 2003.  While we became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, there is still a lot of work ahead before marriage equality is recognized everywhere in the United States.  

• In the Massachusetts Senate yesterday there was a spirited debate of sorts on the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).  Senator Tarr called the UCC both long awaited and worthy of summer beach reading.  Senator Candaras explained the amendments to the UCC and said it was good for economic development.  Senator Creem, tongue-in-cheek, said the UCC was a topic in which she tried to interest her constituents at political events.  Soon, she realized that her audience was asleep and it wouldn’t get her re-elected.   Humor aside, we are delighted that the Senate passed the bill yesterday and we await action by the governor. 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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BBA Continues Advocacy for Marriage Equality

It’s gratifying when the BBA has an opportunity to throw our support behind issues related to civil rights and civil liberties, both fundamental to our mission as a community of lawyers.  This week the BBA joins as amici in two cases currently before the United States Supreme Court — Dennis Hollingsworth, et al. v. Kristin M. Perry and United States v. Windsor.  Simply put, the Perry and Windsor briefs argue that sexual orientation classifications warrant heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.

Heightened scrutiny is essential when the affected minority lacks the political power to defend itself from the majority’s prejudices through the normal democratic process. As the amicus brief in Perry notes, heightened scrutiny is “warranted to ensure that historical prejudice and antipathy are not masked by after –the- fact rationalizations.”

Perry challenges California’s Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban approved by a 2008 ballot initiative.  From June 2008 until November 2008 when Proposition 8 passed, same-sex couples were allowed to marry in California.  Proposition 8 took away that right.  Same-sex couples in California sued to overturn Proposition 8, and a federal judge ultimately found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. When the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the judge’s decision, gay marriage opponents attempted to revive Proposition 8 in the Supreme Court.

Windsor challenges Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and also defines a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

The BBA works to advocate for access to justice for all, including the right of all persons to equality under law.  The BBA has been a leader when it comes to the rights of same-sex couples.  Whether we use the phrase marriage equality or same-sex marriage we are talking about the equal treatment of same-sex couples.   In October 2002, the BBA filed a brief in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, arguing that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Massachusetts violated the state constitution.  Three years later, in January 2005, the BBA filed another brief in Cote-Whiteacre v. Dept. of Pub Health.  To better understand our involvement with this important issue check out our past blogs.

The issue of whether DOMA is unconstitutional now lies in the hands of the US Supreme Court.  We urge the Court to strike down this discriminatory act. Stay tuned…we will report back once arguments in both cases have been heard.  Arguments in Perry begin March 26 and arguments in Windsor begin March 27.

 

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association
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Nationwide Victories for Same-Sex Marriage

Amen!  We are at last seeing the changing tide of public opinion on same-sex marriage across the country.  This became especially evident last week on Election Day.  Four states considered ballot questions regarding same-sex marriage.  Equality and common sense prevailed when Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote through a ballot initiative.  There was more to celebrate when Minnesota voters defeated a ballot question that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Before the 2012 election, same-sex marriage had appeared on ballots in 32 different states and was defeated all 32 times.  In Massachusetts we are ahead of the curve.  After all, it was almost ten years ago that Massachusetts became the first state to legally recognize same-sex marriages.  There are now ten U.S. jurisdictions in which same-sex marriage is legal – nine states and the District of Columbia.

Fortunately attitudes about same-sex marriage are shifting across the country.  In May, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the Constitution.  We’re still hoping that the Supreme Court will take this issue up this year.

Earlier this week, the Boston Bar Association honored the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) with its third annual Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion at the Liberty Hotel. The award recognizes these two organizations for their efforts challenging the constitutionality of DOMA in two parallel cases in the First Circuit.  The award was created to highlight exceptional leadership in creating a lasting impact and forging a new path towards a more diverse and inclusive legal profession and society in Greater Boston.

There is still work to be done in ensuring equality for all citizens, but this week’s Beacon Award event gave us the opportunity to pause and celebrate the outstanding work of those championing and to reflect on just how far we’ve come.

We await the Supreme Court’s decision of whether (or when) to take up the two federal cases challenging DOMA and we hope that the Supreme Court was listening when the people spoke on Election Day.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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SCOTUS Fall 2012 Starting Lineup

Amid much anticipation, the United States Supreme Court opened its 2012-2013 term on October 1st.  At the Boston Bar Association (BBA), we are watching three specific cases with great interest in their impact on civil rights and equality.

Fisher vs. the University of Texas is scheduled for oral arguments on Wednesday, October 10th.  The issue at hand in the Fisher case is the diversification of student bodies in higher education.  However, the impact of the decision in this case will be far reaching – with the potential to derail whatever progress is being made in advancing diversity in the legal profession.

Fisher challenges the Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger a case challenging the affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan Law School.   Our amicus brief in Grutter supported the position that race-based criteria in admissions decisions pass constitutional muster.

We fervently believe that race-conscious policies promote more diverse student bodies, which lead to more racially representative legal communities.   This determined our position when we filed an amicus brief this summer in Fisher. If the Court chooses to overturn the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies, the impact on the higher education landscape will be devastating, not just in Texas but throughout the country.

This particular brief was drafted for the Boston Bar Association by Bingham McCutchen on a pro bono basis. Thank you again to the Bingham team –Jon Albano, Deena El-Mallawany and Caleb Schillinger.

Meanwhile we can only hope that the Court will take up another civil rights issue presented in MA v. U.S. DHHS and Gill v. OPM.  These two cases –one filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and the other by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office – challenge the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex spouses for any federal purpose.

Last winter, the BBA joined an amicus brief drafted by GLAD and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office challenging the constitutionality of DOMA.  DOMA presents a challenge to our civil rights, posing a significant threat to fundamental concepts of fairness and equality.

Civil marriage – which allows a couple to seek a license to marry – should not be confused with religious wedding ceremonies that may take place in churches, mosques or synagogues.  As a matter of equality under the law, the BBA supports civil marriage for same sex couples. The BBA filed an amicus brief in the landmark case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, which led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

We celebrated when theU.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston struck down the section of DOMA that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples married in states that have legalized such unions.   We will celebrate again at the 3rd Annual Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion ceremony on November 13th when we honor GLAD and the Attorney General’s Office for their work in this area.

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Still Proud to Be First!

Recently, New York became the latest state to legalize same-sex marriage when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marriage Equality Act into law in June.  A 62-member Senate had approved the bill by a vote of 33-29.  The bill officially took effect July 24th, which marked 30 days since Governor Cuomo signed it into law.

However, this monumental decision by the New York State Assembly did not come without a fight. Lawmaker Daniel O’Donnell, the first openly gay member of the New York State Assembly, introduced a same-sex marriage bill in 2007, which was approved by the Assembly three times in five years, but subsequently rejected by the Senate each time. The final push towards legalization came with a switch in the opinion of four of the New York representatives (three Democrats and one Republican).  Some of the representatives admitted that they were swayed by the public opinion in their districts while others revealed a change in their moral stance on the issue.

Following the Supreme Judicial Court’s 2004 ruling in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Boston Bar Association filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case, seven same-sex couples who argued that Massachusetts law subjected them to discrimination by denying them the right to obtain civil marriage licenses.   When the Massachusetts law officially took effect on May 17, 2004, we became the sixth jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage after the Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario, British Colombia, and Quebec.  Since then, several U.S. jurisdictions (Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, and now New York) have joined Massachusetts in enacting similar measures to legalize same-sex marriage.

President Obama’s 2011 decision to direct the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) against lawsuits challenging its constitutionality marked a significant shift in the political atmosphere surrounding the issue. There are currently two cases challenging the constitutionality of DOMA in the First Circuit: Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.

The BBA takes pride in its record of supporting equal rights and universal access to justice as the issue of same-sex marriage progresses.  We will continue to monitor same-sex marriage issues throughout Massachusetts and in Washington.

-Michael Bouton

Government Relations Department

Boston Bar Association

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D-Day for DOMA

Yesterday’s decision by President Obama to no longer defend the constitutionality of a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) came as a surprise.  The U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) determined that DOMA is unconstitutional , an argument that Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has used in the Massachusetts lawsuit challenging the law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Currently, there are DOMA cases pending in the First Circuit Court of Federal Appeals.  Both the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (“GLAD”) and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office have succeeded in the Federal District Court challenging DOMA, and the DOJ has appealed.  The lawsuits argue, among other things, that the federal definitions of “marriage” and “spouse” are sexual orientation based classifications that should be found unconstitutional.

The DOJ’s new refusal to defend DOMA does not mean this litigation will go away.  It simply means that the DOJ will not stand in any of the DOMA cases.  A little-known statute, 28 USC 530D, declares that if the DOJ decides not to defend a case, notice must be given to Congress.  Congress then has the right to appoint its own attorney to intervene and defend the law.  With no clear guidelines as to the application of this statute, it’s hard to predict how Congress will respond.

A look at our recent involvement reveals the BBA has been active on issues of discrimination, civil rights and same-sex marriage.  Here’s a brief timeline of how the BBA has participated in this debate in the past.

  • In October 2002, the BBA filed an independent amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health arguing that denying them civil marriage licenses violated the Massachusetts Constitution.
  • In October 2003, the BBA Council voted unanimously to support legislation that would allow for same-sex marriages in Massachusetts.
  • In December 2003, the BBA Council voted unanimously to sign the following resolution stating clearly the BBA position on the issue:

“We, the BBA, unequivocally support the ruling of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, to stop denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage licenses and all of the protections and responsibilities conferred by legal marriage. The government should treat all people equally and fairly under the law. We also unequivocally oppose any attempt to change the constitution of Massachusetts in order to discriminate against same-sex couples.”

  • In 2004, the BBA testified before the Massachusetts legislature in opposition to a bill that would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
  • In January 2005, the BBA Council voted unanimously to draft an independent BBA amicus brief supporting GLAD’s position in the Cote-Whiteacre v. Dept. of Pub Health case arguing that the 1913 statute, which prevents non-resident couples from marrying in Massachusetts if that marriage would be void in their home state, is unconstitutional.

As an organization that supports civil rights for all, the BBA will keep an eye on Congress in the coming weeks.

-Kathleen Joyce

Government Relations Director

Boston Bar Association

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