Diverse group of judges rule on gay marriage cases


Gay marriage legal status by state, May 13. (Niraj Chokshi)

The headlines are so consistent, they could be written by a computer: “Judge strikes down state ban on gay marriage.”

But the federal judges who have supplied an unbroken wave of victories across the country to supporters of same-sex marriage are more diverse than their rulings would suggest: white and black, gay and straight, nominated by Democrats (most of them) and chosen by Republicans (a few of them).

In Michigan, the message was delivered by a judge who took the bench while Ronald Reagan was president. In Utah, it came from someone who had barely celebrated his first anniversary as a judge.

What they share is a judicial view that would have been unthinkable a generation ago: The Constitution requires that the fundamental right to marry be extended to gay couples.

In Pennsylvania, where the state’s ban was struck down last week, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III said he kept all 12 of the previous opinions by other federal courts on his desk when deciding his case.

District courts are the trial level of the federal judiciary, and, unlike rulings from appeals courts and the Supreme Court, the decisions of district judges do not create precedents for others to follow.

“But there has to be some kind of momentum effect” to the string of nearly identical rulings, said William Baude, a former clerk to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. who teaches law at the University of Chicago and has closely followed the decisions.

Cases are randomly assigned, but nine of the district judges who have struck down the bans were appointed by either President Obama or former president Bill Clinton. Baude theorizes that the unanimity of the decisions may be a result of quick action by judges who strongly believe that the constitutional right to marriage must extend to gay couples.

Read the full story here.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.
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