Voices in the courtroom

Highlights from the arguments.

SOLICITOR GENERAL DONALD B. VERRILLI JR.: “This is discrimination in its most very basic aspect.”

ATTORNEY PAUL CLEMENT: “And what Congress says is: Wait a minute. Let’s take a timeout here. This is a redefinition of an age-old institution. Let’s take a more cautious approach where every sovereign [government] gets to do this for themselves.”

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN G. ROBERTS JR. TO ATTORNEY ROBERTA KAPLAN: “As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case.”

ATTORNEY ROBERTA KAPLAN: “Mr. Chief Justice, I think it comes from a moral understanding today that gay people are no different, and that gay married couples’ relationships are not significantly different from the relationships of straight married people.”

JUSTICE SONIA SOTOMAYOR: “So they [Congress] can create a class they don’t like — here, homosexuals — or a class that they consider is suspect in the marriage category, and they can create that class and decide benefits on that basis when they themselves have no interest in the actual institution of marriage?”

JUSTICE ANTONIN SCALIA: “And I’m wondering if we’re living in this new world where the attorney general can simply decide, yeah, it’s unconstitutional, but it’s not so unconstitutional that I’m not willing to enforce it. If we’re in this new world, I — I don’t want these cases like this to come before this court all the time. And I think they will come all the time if that’s — if that’s — if that’s the new regime in the Justice Department that we’re dealing with.”

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: “Mr. Clement, the problem is, if we are totally for the states’ decision that there is a marriage between two people, for the federal government then to come in to say no joint return, no marital deduction, no Social Security benefits, your spouse is very sick, but you can’t get leave — one might well ask, ‘What kind of marriage is this?’ ”

JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY: “But when it has 1,100 laws, which, in our society, means that the federal government is intertwined with the citizens’ day-to-day life, you are . . . at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.”

JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN: “Well, is what happened in 1996 — and I’m going to quote from the House report here — is that ‘Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality’? Is that what happened in 1996?”

Juliet Eilperin

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