WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday invited a Massachusetts lawyer to come argue that the justices cannot rule on one of the gay marriage questions it had planned to decide next year.
The court asked lawyer Vicki C. Jackson of Cambridge to join the gay marriage arguments this spring, but she won’t be arguing whether it’s legal for governments to treat gay Americans differently in issues of marriage. Instead, at the court’s invitation, Jackson will be arguing that it’s improper for the Supreme Court to even consider making a ruling on a federal law that treats gay married couples differently from heterosexual married couples.
The high court will be hearing two gay marriage arguments: first, whether California’s constitutional amendment that forbids same-sex is constitutional. The second question is the one Jackson will argue that justices should stay out of: the constitutionality of a federal law that denies to gay couple who can marry legally the right to obtain federal benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples.
Gay marriage is legal, or will be soon, in nine states — Maine, Maryland, Washington state, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont — and the nation’s capital, the District of Columbia.
But a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, known by its acronym DOMA, defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of deciding who can receive a range of federal health and pension benefits, as well as favorable tax treatment.
So far, four federal district courts and two appeals courts struck down the provision. Last year, the Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law, but continues to enforce it. House Republicans are now defending DOMA in the courts.
Jackson was asked by the court to argue “that the Executive Branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this court of jurisdiction to decide this case.” She will also argue that House Republicans cannot substitute themselves for the Justice Department and therefore they lack “standing in this case.”