This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—January 21

by Ed Whelan

2014—Arch-activist Stephen Reinhardt sets the stage for the judicial invalidation of state marriage laws throughout the Ninth Circuit. Writing for a liberal panel, Reinhardt rules in SmithKline Beecham Corp. v. Abbott Laboratories that equal-protection principles prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in jury selection. In particular, Reinhardt construes the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Windsor v. United States to require that heightened scrutiny, rather than deferential rational-basis review, be applied to classifications based on sexual orientation that are alleged to violate equal-protection principles.

Reinhardt’s ruling reflects his usual wiliness and mischief. Reinhardt acknowledges that circuit precedent before Windsor applied rational-basis review to equal-protection challenges to classifications based on sexual orientation. He further acknowledges that Windsor did not hold what standard of review should generally apply to such classifications. But he determines that Windsor implicitly established that heightened scrutiny must be applied to equal-protection claims involving sexual orientation.

In fact, the Windsor majority’s reasoning was directed at the specifics of the Defense of Marriage Act, so it was unnecessary for the Windsor majority to adopt, explicitly or implicitly, a general level of scrutiny for classifications based on sexual orientation. Thus, Reinhardt should have ruled that the circuit precedent applying rational-basis review to equal-protection challenges to classifications based on sexual orientation remains in force.

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