If you’re not a U.S. Supreme Court junkie, you wouldn’t know that the single topic that most exercised the justices in the decisions issued in late June was the arcane law of standing. This is the requirement that every case before the court pose two parties against each other, arguing the opposite sides of the case at hand.
You may have heard that Justice Antonin Scalia referred to the majority opinion striking down the Defense of Marriage Act as “legalistic argle-bargle.” Intemperate as the dissent was, derision for Justice Anthony Kennedy’s jurisprudence of dignity and personhood was nothing new for Scalia, who has been castigating what he once called Kennedy’s “sweet mystery of life” rhetoric for a decade.
In the biggest U.S. Supreme Court week in years, with banner headlines on race and marriage, the court decided a small case no one much noticed. But in its own way, it reflected societal changes as profound as those captured in the court’s rulings on the Voting Rights Act and Proposition 8.
A divided U.S. Supreme Court gave a landmark victory to the gay-rights movement, striking down a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and clearing the way for weddings to resume in California.
“All deliberate speed” -- that was the gradualist coda the U.S. Supreme Court added in 1955 to its second Brown v. Board of Education ruling after it ended school segregation. In striking down the Defense of Marriage Act without establishing a general constitutional right for gay people to marry, the court did the same thing for same-sex marriage that it once did for segregation: declared a principle without putting it fully into practice.