The Republican House leadership has announced it will intervene in a Defense of Marriage Act lawsuit that challenges the federal ban’s denial of full disability benefits for the spouse of a military veteran coping with MS.
Controversially BLAG will also defend another law, the military’s Section 101(3), (31) of Title 38, related to military benefits, even though no formal vote was held on whether the House should defend this aspect of the military code.
In a planned court filing obtained by Metro Weekly that is expected to be filed on Monday, April 2, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group — which is controlled by a 3-2 House Republican leadership majority — will be asking the court to intervene in the case of Tracey Cooper-Harris and her wife, Maggie, who are suing the federal government for equal veterans benefits in a cased backed by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck tells Metro Weekly this morning, “It was determined through consultations with each office — the process used to make such decisions regularly under then-Speaker Pelosi — that a majority of the BLAG believes the constitutionality of this statute, which the Attorney General described as ‘identical in material respect to the language of Section 3 of DOMA,’ should be determined by the judicial branch, not through a unilateral decree of the President.”
In other words, though no formal vote was held, Buck states that a majority of BLAG decided to expand the DOMA defense into including statutes like those in Title 38 that are essentially the same as DOMA.]
Rep Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, who have long challenged BLAG’s involvement in defending Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in court, have said that the House leadership has overstepped its bounds in intervening to defend Title 38 without a formal vote even if, because Republicans are in the majority in the bipartisan legal advisory group, the result would have been the same.
Today, we were notified that the House, through outside counsel acting at your direction, has decided to intervene in a case challenging the constitutionality of laws denying federal benefits to military spouses on the basis of their sexual orientation. As members of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), who were not consulted prior to this unwise decision, we strongly object to spending taxpayer money to intervene in this case against a decorated veteran, Tracey Cooper-Harris, and her spouse, Maggie Cooper-Harris. This decision clearly exceeds the scope of the original BLAG authorization, with which we initially disagreed.
This intervention once again puts the House of Representatives on the wrong side of the future — supporting discrimination, unfairness, and the denial of basic equality to all Americans. We have objected to prior decisions by the House Republican BLAG members to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination. This latest decision not only ignores the civil rights of LGBT Americans but opens a new, direct assault on veterans. The men and women of our Armed Forces serve with courage and dignity on behalf of our safety and security. They risk their lives for the country they love — and they should not face prejudice at home because of whom they love. These brave soldiers deserve nothing less than our gratitude, our respect, and the benefits they have earned in battle.
This comes after the Obama administration said that it would not defend Title 38 because, per its determination that DOMA Section 3 is unconstitutional, such restrictions are unlawful.
Cooper Harris v. United States is a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris. The suit challenges the denial of equal disability benefits for Harris’ same-sex spouse. You can read more on that case here.
This latest action by the House seems to set a worrying precedent that not only is the GOP leadership willing to defend DOMA despite several court rulings that it is unconstitutional, but that the GOP leadership now seems willing to transfer this defense to other similar but separate legal questions without apparently following established House procedure.