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Robicheaux v. Caldwell (5th Cir.)

Robicheaux v. Caldwell was a federal-court challenge to discriminatory marriage laws in Louisiana that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying. On September 3, 2014, District Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana became the first federal judge to uphold a state’s discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor. In his opinion, Judge Feldman justified denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry by asserting that Louisiana “has a legitimate interest . . . [in] addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process,” adding that “fundamental social change, in this instance, is better cultivated through democratic consensus.” Following Judge Feldman’s order, the plaintiffs appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

On October 24, 2014, Constitutional Accountability Center and the Cato Institute jointly filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Robicheaux, urging the court of appeals to overturn Judge Feldman’s ruling. Our brief demonstrated that in denying same-sex couples the right to marry and empowering the people of Louisiana to impose a badge of inferiority on those couples, Judge Feldman “misapprehended the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection . . . and disregarded vital principles of constitutional supremacy.” As the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, “[states] cannot use the democratic process to write inequality into law or deny to minorities core aspects of liberty.” Contrary to Judge Feldman’s opinion, there is simply no “will of the majority” exception to the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of individual liberty against state infringement and guarantee of equality under the law.

On November 20, 2014, the plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment with the Supreme Court, requesting that the Court hear this case and address the constitutionality of the Louisiana ban on same-sex marriage before the Fifth Circuit ruled. The Supreme Court denied the petition on January 12, 2015. A few days later, on January 16, the Supreme Court agreed in Obergefell v. Hodges to review the constitutionality of the laws of Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Kentucky denying gay men and lesbians the freedom to marry.

On June 26, 2015, in an historic 5-4 ruling authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court held in Obergefell that the Fourteenth Amendment requires marriage equality and that all states must allow same-sex couples to marry as well as recognize same-sex marriages entered into out-of-state.  On June 29, the Fifth Circuit asked the parties in Robicheaux to file letter briefs addressing the appropriate disposition of the case in light of the Supreme Court’s controlling ruling in Obergefell.  In those submissions, both sides agreed that, in light of Obergefell, Judge Feldman’s ruling upholding Louisiana’s discriminatory marriage laws must be reversed.  On July 1, the Fifth Circuit reversed Judge Feldman’s ruling and remanded the case to the District Court for entry of judgment in favor of those who had challenged the discriminatory laws.