Why was the Chief Justice silent on the merits in Windsor?

June 27th, 2013

The Chief *only* joined Part I of Scalia’s dissent, which focused on jurisdiction. He did not join either Scalia or Alito on the merits with respect to equal protection or due process. What does this mean? His brief dissenting opinion rebuts some of the charges of animus leveled at those who support DOMA, but contains no equal protection or due process analysis.

He alludes to future challenges which would have to resolve this issue (no pesky standing issues):

We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples. That issue, however, is not before us in this case, and we hold today that we lack jurisdiction to consider it in the particular context of Hollingsworth v. Perry, ante, p. ___. I write only to highlight the limits of the majority’s holding and reasoning today, lest its opinion be taken to resolve not only a question that I believe is not properly before us— DOMA’s constitutionality—but also a question that all agree, and the Court explicitly acknowledges, is not at issue.

He also alludes to this ongoing controversy (but no case — fed courts pun!) in the opening sentence  of his Perry opinion:

The public is currently engaged in an active political debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry

It seems the Chief is staying his hand here. Maybe it is too vitriolic for the Chief? But then why couldn’t he join Alito’s dissenting opinion. Or, he doesn’t think we should address the merits of a case that is not properly before the Court. Unlike his NFIB opinion where he spent 30 pages talking about the commerce clause even though the law was saved as a tax. Right?

Note that the Chief does not join Alito’s dissent, at all, and joins the parts of Scalia’s dissent that criticizes Alito.

And what’s up with Thomas? He joined the entirety of Scalia’s opinion, including Part II, which went through Nino’s equal protection/due process analysis. AND Thomas joined Parts II of III of Alito’s dissent (Part I concerned standing, and was in conflict with Scalia’s ). Part II focuses on various moral reasons in support of traditional marriage. Part III offers an alternate equal protection and due process analysis. Why would Thomas join both?

And Thomas joined Kennedy’s opinion in Perry? He thought the BLAG did not have standing, but the supporters of Prop 8 did.  This will be an awesome pair of cases to teach in Fed Courts.