Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 28, 2013

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This week in legal news, the Supreme Court dominates the headlines, the US Senate passes landmark immigration legislation, and a former star NFL-er faces serious criminal charges. 

Supreme Court Rejects DOMA

As we discussed here earlier this year, the Supreme Court was recently presented with the opportunity to speak on the gay marriage issue for the first time in history.  Although the Court avoided the case against California’s Proposition 8, thus declining the opportunity to make a broad ruling against State laws banning gay marriage, it did not shy away from overturning the provisions of the Defense Against Marriage Act (DOMA) which declared gay marriage illegal in the eyes of the federal government.  In the deciding words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court’s usual swing vote, the federal ban on homosexual marriages legally recognized under State law, had “no legitimate purpose” and served only to “disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

The ruling in US v Windsor relies on federalist principles by deferring to a state’s right to define its own marriage law, but the implications for proponents of gay marriage are still strong.   The immediate and clear victory for proponents of gay marriage is one of benefits.  Now spouses in homosexual marriages legally recognized under state’s law will be entitled to the same federal benefits, from public employee benefits to tax benefits to immigration benefits, that spouses in heterosexual marriages receive.  Currently, this only effects homosexual couples in 13 states and DC, and, according to the definition of marriage in some agencies, it may only apply to same sex couples that actually live in the state which legally recognizes their marriage.  With a variety of issues to iron out, there are more battles to be fought in court rooms and agency buildings before it is clear how the Windsor ruling will play out.

While there are clearly logistics that need to be resolved and hurdles for gay marriage proponents to overcome on the state level, the ruling represents a significant step by eliminating as unconstitutional any federal ban on gay marriage – a position that will hold lasting effect should Congress attempt to pass another version of DOMA down the road.  Although it would not take action to legalize gay marriage regardless of state law, the Court has changed the game nonetheless and has given US v Windsor a place in law books for years to come.

Senate Passes Landmark Immigration Reform

This week the Senate has passed its much discussed bill on immigration reform by a sizable 68 – 32 vote.  The bill, a creation of the so called “Gang of Eight” bi-partisan senators, is highlighted by

  • A path to citizenship for all undocumented immigrants in the United States
  • Plan to double the number of US Border Patrol agents
  • New burdens placed on employers, who must check immigration status of all job applicants using the government’s E-Verify system
  • Construction of 700 miles of fencing along the southern US border

The marquee element of the bill – universal citizenship for undocumented aliens – seems to have drawn rancor from House Republicans, some of whom have vowed to fight passage of the Bill while working on one of their construction which prioritizes border security before tackling citizenship.  The split between border security and citizenship has been a dividing point throughout the creation of the Senate Bill, leading to the compromises within the finished product.  Whether or not those compromises are sufficient to pass the House remains to be seen, but the immediate reaction from leading Republicans suggests that there is a lot of work yet to come before sweeping immigration reform becomes reality.

Aaron Hernandez Denied Bail on Murder Charge

One of the more disturbing stories about athlete misbehavior comes from Boston this week as former New England Patriot, Aaron Hernandez has been arrested for first degree murder in the death of 27-year old acquaintance Odin Lloyd.  Hernandez was denied bail in both his arraignment and on appeal, leaving the former all-pro player in jail until the trial – likely a year or so away given the amount of evidence yet to be collected and analyzed. 

The evidence against Hernandez is initially staggering with video footage and cell phone tracking placing Hernandez with the victim, with a weapon, and at the scene of the murder at the time that it occurred.  While he is innocent until proven guilty, it seems that his attorneys have a lot of work to do when evaluating the facts that have come to light thus far.  Hernandez is the 27th NFL-er to be arrested since February’s Super Bowl, and he now lives as the strongest cautionary tale to young players who think they exist in a world above the law.