Another extreme King bill, and it should come for a vote now
U.S. Rep. Steve King, Republican from the Iowa Fourth District, has filed a bill in the U.S. House which would prohibit the U.S. Supreme Court, and all federal district and appellate courts, from ruling on any lawsuit about marriage.
The bill, entitled the “Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015,” should be immediately placed on the House calendar for a vote. It would be instructive to see how members of Congress would declare themselves on such a measure.
King says his bill would leave it up to the states to decide what constitutes a valid marriage. A state decision in that area could not be overturned by a federal court.
That would be a stark alteration of the system of checks and balances that the Founders created with the Constitution.
Leaving aside the question of whether a state should be permitted to legalize polygamy — something King’s bill would apparently permit — attempts to tie the hands of the federal courts in specific cases have always been considered as the outer ring of extremism in American constitutional history.
The concept of judicial interpretation of legislative action in the United States is well over 200 years old.
Advocates at both ends of the political spectrum at various times condemn specific rulings of the courts, but legislative attempts to declare such rulings illegal are extremely rare.
What’s more, there is absolutely no chance of King’s bill becoming law.
In the first place, there may not be enough House Republicans willing to vote yes on such a measure, both because of the growing sentiment in America in favor of legalizing marriage equality and because of the bill’s revolutionary attempt to reduce judicial authority.
In the second place, if the bill somehow passed the House, it would go to the Senate, where Democrats would prevent its success through a likely filibuster.
In the third place, if the bill somehow passed both the House and the Senate, President Obama would surely veto it, since his administration has come out in favor of legal marriage equality.
And in the fourth place, the bill would face an unlikely future in the court system, which would rule on whether such legislation to hamstring its authority is legal.
King’s insistence that states are the proper arbiters of what a legal marriage is raises some interesting questions.
He was a strong supporter of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), adopted by Congress in 1996, which in its Section 3 stated the federal definition of marriage to be between one man and one woman. The law effectively denied federal legal benefits — over 1,000 of them, both financial and otherwise — to same-sex married couples.
So after Congress had sided with traditional marriage, King supported Washington’s role in that definition. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 declared that section of DOMA to be unconstitutional, thereby permitting same-sex couples to receive equal federal treatment.
So now, with the tables turned, King resorts to the argument that marriage is a states’ rights issue.
King’s bill is an attempt to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling in the next few weeks on the issue of marriage equality. The matter is on the court’s docket because separate federal appellate courts have issued opposite rulings. In such cases, the Supreme Court is pretty much bound to rule, in order to decide what the law actually is.
King’s bill would explicitly prevent federal courts from considering any marriage case now pending or forthcoming — in other words, the highest court in the land could not rule on the marriage issue now before it.
A few decades ago, neither King nor anyone else would have felt it necessary or worthwhile to propose a “Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act.” That’s because the sentiment for marriage equality in the United States was very much a minority position.
But today, King and other marriage traditionalists fear the Supreme Court will rule against their position. Their fear may very well prove correct.
But if the Supreme Court rules that individual states don’t have to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages from other states, will King object that the court has no power to make that declaration?
So let’s have a U.S. House vote on the bill, and let’s have it immediately.
And let’s see if Congress would really be willing to tie the hands of the federal courts on the civil rights issue of marriage.