UC Irvine law professor Rick Hasen was among the first to notice the "strange rephrasing" of the questions the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear [PDF] when it combined four different marriage equality challenges on Friday.
The questions from the different appellate court challenges that the Court agreed to entertain --- after the 6th Circuit broke with every other federal appeals court in the nation and allowed restrictions to remain on marriage rights in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee --- were combined to just two questions on which the Supremes agreed to hear arguments:
2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?
Hasen described the way the first question was written as "quite odd", explaining: "Rather than ask about an equal right of gays and lesbians to marry same sex partners, it asks about the right of the states to deny same sex marriage."
Indeed, amid the jubilation following the narrow 2010 ruling by SCOTUS in the Windsor case, which effectively struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernest Canning pointed out that "by limiting its decision...the court left open to future adjudication of two vitally important questions":
2. Must states, which do not permit same-sex couples to marry, recognize the marital rights of those same-sex couples who have chosen to marry in other states where it is permitted?
Note the difference in the wording of Canning's "unresolved questions" from 2010 and how the Court has subtly adjusted the issue raised in the first question to become one of state's rights, rather than of equal justice under the law for the same-sex couples to be married there.
Hasen observes that the Court's new wording also "leaves open the possibility that states could get out of the marriage business entirely," as unlikely as they may seem. Other legal experts, such as Ilya Shapiro at Forbes, agreed the re-wording of questions by the Court was "unusual". "Typically the justices simply decide whether to take a case based on the petitioners' articulation," he explained.
Hasen says the unusual reframing by the Court and the late hour in the day on Friday that their order was finally released, "raises the question of why were they rewritten" in the way they were, and "with an accompanying direct order --- I've not seen that before --admonishing the parties to stick with discussing these questions presented."
So, is something afoot here?...