U.S. District Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Lambda Legal Challenge to Obama Administration Use of Federal Defense of Marriage Act

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Case may result in next major ruling on DOMA constitutionality.
December 15, 2010

(San Francisco, December 14, 2010) - The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will hear oral arguments this Friday, December 17, in a Lambda Legal case that could result in the next major court decision regarding the federal so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," or DOMA.

Lambda Legal filed suit against the federal government earlier this year on behalf of Karen Golinski, an employee of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Golinski seeks the same spousal health insurance for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, that heterosexual employees receive for their spouses. Golinski v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requests an order directing the agency to obey prior rulings by Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski awarding the equal insurance benefits to Golinski and to rescind its instruction to Golinski's insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, not to enroll Cunninghis in Golinski's family health insurance plan.

WHEN: 10:00 a.m., Friday, December 17, 2010

WHERE: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California
450 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102
Courtroom 11, 19th Floor

WHO: Jennifer C. Pizer, Senior Counsel, Lambda Legal
Rita Lin, Associate, Morrison Foerster LLP
Karen Golinski, Plaintiff

*** The hearing is expected to last between one and two hours -- Pizer, Lin and Golinski will hold a news conference on the steps outside the court house immediately following ***

WHY: Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled in January 2009 that denying Golinski spousal health insurance for Cunninghis, was illegal discrimination. He ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to submit Golinski's health benefits election form to her insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield. OPM disagreed with Kozinski's order and told Blue Cross not to comply. In November 2009, Kozinski issued a further ruling explaining that he has the authority, under both the Ninth Circuit's Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) Plan and the constitutional separation of powers doctrine, to interpret laws governing the rights of judicial employees. His order gave OPM thirty days to comply or appeal. The controversy drew national attention when, instead of doing either, OPM responded with a press release saying the order was not binding and that the U.S. Department of Justice had advised OPM not to comply in light of DOMA. When OPM failed to appeal by the December 2009 deadline, Kozinski held that his prior rulings had become conclusive and binding against OPM. Golinski then launched this enforcement case in federal district court and asked for an injunction against OPM and its director, John Berry. The Obama Administration is asking that the case be dismissed.

In advance of Friday's hearing, Judge Jeffrey S. White asked both sides to file additional legal briefs addressing, among other topics, whether or not DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution. On behalf of Golinski, Lambda Legal has explained that the law indeed is unconstitutional because it discriminates based on sex and sexual orientation as well as infringing on the fundamental right to privacy and respect for one’s family relationships, as recognized by the Supreme Court in Lambda Legal's landmark case, Lawrence v. Texas. Lambda Legal also explained, however, that Judge White may not need to rule on DOMA's constitutionality to decide Golinski's case because OPM, under the authority of President Obama, is part of the Executive Branch of the federal government, and lacks authority to override internal personnel decisions made by the Judicial Branch as it works to end discrimination against lesbian and gay court employees.

Lambda Legal's Pizer represents Golinski together with Rita Lin, James McGuire, Gregory Dresser and Aaron Jones of Morrison & Foerster LLP.

The case is  Golinski v. United States Office of Personnel Management and John Berry, Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, in his official capacity.