Wisconsin Gay Marriage Ban Overturned, Uber Hit with Cease and Desist, and White House Apologizes to Congress

This week, Wisconsin joined the ranks of states with gay marriage bans overturned in federal court, the Supreme Court rejected a private party’s plea to put a hold on Oregon same-sex marriages, popular ridesharing service Uber faces a new legal challenge in Virginia, and the White House apologizes to members of Congress for the secrecy surrounding Bowe Bergdahl's prisoner exchange.

Wisconsin Federal Court Rejects State’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Another week, another ban on gay marriage struck down in federal court.  Yesterday, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a thorough 88-page opinion dismissing Wisconsin’s law against same-sex marriage for violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clause.  In regards to Due Process, Judge Crabb held that marriage is a fundamental right, and same-sex couples cannot be excluded from enjoying it (a different approach than other courts, which, questionably, held that gay marriage is a fundamental right).  On the Equal Protection issue, Judge Crabb followed the path of other federal courts and applied intermediate scrutiny review to matters of sexual-orientation discrimination to find that Wisconsin’s law improperly targeted couples based on their homosexuality.

Judge Crabb is a District Court Judge, which means the case will be heard on appeal by a federal circuit court (7th Circuit) before a potential review by SCOTUS.  On June 16th the Court will rule on Wisconsin’s motion to issue a stay on the ruling – and keep the gay marriage ban in effect – until the matter is decided on appeal.  Until then, some county clerks are already issuing marriage licenses as same-sex couples in Wisconsin are rushing to the courthouse while Judge Crabb’s order is the controlling legal authority.  Judge Crabb’s decision and legal justification are added to the growing list of federal opinions that find bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, but it remains up to the Supreme Court to solidify the matter.

Supreme Court Refuses to Stop Oregon Same-Sex Marriages

Recently, Oregon officials declined to appeal a federal decision which found the state’s gay marriage ban unconstitutional.  The issue is not settled, however, as the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a private group strongly opposed to same-sex unions, has taken up the banner and filed an appeal to the Federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  While the appeal process plays out, NOM submitted a request to the Supreme Court to put the federal court’s order allowing gay marriage on hold until the issue reaches a final conclusion.  In a terse, one sentence response, the Justices declined to issue the order.

The Supreme Court granted a similar request earlier this year, however, in that case the state of Utah submitted the motion – a different situation because NOM is a private party acting without the support of Oregon officials.  County officials across Oregon have been issuing marriage licenses, and will continue to do so despite NOM’s attempt to keep the ban in effect until the issue is decided on appeal.

 Virginia Officials Block Ridesharing Car Services

Popular peer-to-peer ridesharing services Uber and Lyft were issued a cease and desist letter from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles for operating without proper licensure.  Using mobile apps to connect passengers with part-time drivers of private cars, Uber and Lyft have gained nationwide popularity largely by offering cheaper ride services than cabs or other car services.  The growth, however, has not been easy as taxi officials and state politicians have resisted the service with regulations and fines for operating without permits.  After a fierce battle in New York that ended with Uber continuing operation with drivers who have been properly licensed by the state’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, ridesharing companies’ next legal challenge comes from Virginia.

Uber issued a statement indicating its disappointment with Virginia’s decision by saying, “The DMV decision today hurts thousands of small business entrepreneurs who rely on the Uber platform to make a living, create new jobs, and contribute to the economy.”  Lyft, similarly disappointed, highlighted the failure of the current regulatory structure – created well before the concept of peer-to-peer ridesharing was conceived – to adequately oversee the unique services Uber and Lyft provide.  Although the fallout of Virginia’s strict action remains to be seen, both companies have risen as a popular alternative to taxi or limo services, and it seems unlikely that voting members of the community will accept an all-out ban on ridesharing in the state.

White House Apologizes to Congress for Secrecy of Prisoner Swap

Earlier this week, I blogged about the legal questions surrounding President Obama’s decision to release five members of the Taliban to secure the release of American POW, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.  On Wednesday, The Hill reports that White House officials apologized, calling the failure to inform Congress “an oversight." Although the apology is a shift in position, the Administration maintained it did not act outside its interpretation of the law requiring Congress to receive 30-day notice of release of Guantanamo prisoners. 

Some lawmakers continue to find the Administration’s behavior suspect, believing that the President acted independently because he believed Congress would torpedo the deal.  When the possibility of a prisoner swap came up in 2011, Congressional committees were almost unanimously opposed.  The President’s apology for bypassing Congress represents a change from the White House’s defiant position earlier in the week, but it has not put the issue to rest.

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