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Clinic Files Brief in Suit Against Move by Arizona to Eliminate Domestic Partner Benefits

Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic Urges Exacting Scrutiny Of Sexual Orientation-Based Discrimination Claims By Federal Appellate Court

 

Public Affairs, 212-854-2650                          
 
New York, Oct. 20, 2010--The Columbia Law School Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic filed an amicus brief Wednesday in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation demands the most stringent constitutional standard courts use to review state and federal law.
 
The brief is for Collins v. Brewer, a lawsuit by Lambda Legal over a move by Arizona lawmakers to eliminate domestic partner health benefits for lesbian and gay state employees, while retaining spousal health benefits for heterosexual workers.
 
In July, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law, and denied Arizona’s motion to dismiss the case. The state immediately appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
 
The Clinic asks the court in its brief to apply strict scrutiny analysis. Under this test, the government must show it has a “compelling interest” in line-drawing between two groups, and that the distinction is “narrowly tailored” to achieve that interest. 
 
This stands in contrast to the significantly weaker “rational basis” review, which requires only that the government have a legitimate interest in distinguishing between two groups and that the distinction be rationally related to achieving that interest.
 
“The Ninth Circuit has not yet determined which level of scrutiny applies to claims of sexual orientation-based discrimination. We aim to persuade the Court that this kind of discrimination merits the most-heightened level of scrutiny,” said Kinara Flagg, ’11, one of three Clinic students who drafted substantial portions of the brief. 
 
Lambda Legal had sued Arizona in November on behalf of 10 gay and lesbian Arizona state employees who were at risk of losing their domestic partner health benefits as a result of the new law. The plaintiffs argued that denying benefits to lesbian and gay couples while providing them to heterosexual couples violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
 
“We hope that, eventually, discriminatory laws like this will cease to be passed. But until then, we need courts to examine this kind of discrimination with the same exacting level of scrutiny that courts apply to cases concerning race- and sex- based discrimination,” said Erin Meyer, ’11.
“Failing to apply heightened scrutiny to discrimination based on sexual orientation sends the harmful message that animus and discrimination against lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men is acceptable in our society,” added Larra Morris, ’11.
 
The Clinic, representing two non-profit LGBT community centers in Arizona as amici curiae in support of the plaintiffs, teamed up with Sarah Anchors, an attorney with Quarles & Brady LLP, a law firm with offices in Phoenix, to provide the Court with additional information on sexual orientation-based discrimination claims and equal protection jurisprudence.
 
To read the amicus brief, click here.
 
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis and other forms of advocacy. Under the guidance of Professor Suzanne Goldberg, clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases, to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.
 
For more information, please visit: http://www.law.columbia.edu/focusareas/clinics/sexuality. To contact Goldberg: call (212) 854- 0411 or email suzanne.goldberg@law.columbia.edu.
 
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins its traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, criminal, national security, and environmental law.