Supreme Court’s same sex marriage case sparks different views

ULM Hawkeye

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Many friends descended upon the Supreme Court Friday, some more welcome than others.

In a concerted show of force, same-sex marriage supporters delivered more than 70 amicus curiae briefs urging the court to find that the Constitution prohibits states from limiting marriage to that between a man and a woman.

Also known popularly as friend-of-the-court briefs, the green-covered documents that surged in by a Friday deadline will eventually be matched, in fervor if not in number, by opposing amicus briefs.

Of them all, a few may actually make a difference.

“Amicus briefs are influential and can impact both the votes justices cast and the content of their opinions,” Paul M. Collins Jr., director of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts, said in an email Friday. “It is important to recognize, however, that not all amicus briefs are created equal.”

The briefs are supposed to help the court’s nine justices prepare for the April 28 oral argument, in which same-sex marriage restrictions imposed in Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan and Ohio will be put to the test.

One brief supporting same-sex marriage, for instance, was filed on behalf of 379 companies, ranging from Amazon.com and American Airlines to The Walt Disney Co. and Xerox. Another was signed by 226 mayors.

“It shows (our) extraordinarily broad base of support,” Camilla Taylor, counsel for Lambda Legal, a civil rights advocacy group, said Friday. “It’s really a cross section of society.”

“I don’t agree with same sex marriage but individuals who are guys shouldn’t be pushed to the side just because they are different,” said Hailey Williford, a senior pre-speech language pathology.

Williford said she thinks same sex marriage could be seen as something else since she thinks marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“But they are people too and they believe something different than I do. That doesn’t mean they should have media all around and be looked at differently,” Williford said.

Some briefs provide non-legal research and context, such as an Organization of American Historians’ recounting of anti-gay discrimination. Another, by the American Sociological Association, cites studies concerning the health of children raised by same-sex couples.

Others, less unique and therefore less useful, essentially repeat familiar legal arguments. In part for this reason, many briefs get the brush-off. In 2012-13, research by Arnold & Porter attorneys Anthony J. Franze and R. Reeves Anderson found, the justices cited just 5 percent of the nongovernmental briefs.

In sheer volume, if nothing else, the amicus briefs are also part of an evolution in Supreme Court advocacy. Once relatively rare, amicus briefs now swarm the chambers like so many courtiers, each pleading for but a moment of a justice’s precious time.