Justice Antonin Scalia harshly criticized the verdict delivered by the Supreme Court Wednesday morning striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and accused his colleagues of suffering from an overly inflated sense of importance in a 26-page dissenting opinion.
“We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation,” Scalia wrote. ” The court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”
The justice’s dissent centered around the issue of jurisdiction. Two lower courts had previously arrived at the decision that federal regulations should not override state definitions of marriage, and President Barack Obama instructed the Department of Justice in 2011 that it should no longer defend DOMA.
Scalia contended that with the issue already agreed upon, the liberal wing of the court, along with swing-vote Anthony Kennedy, should not have affirmed the decision just for the sake of doing so: The court has “never suggested that we have the power to decide a question when every party agrees with both its nominal opponent and the court below on that question’s answer,” Scalia wrote.
Because both the plaintiff and defendant in the case agree that they disagree with DOMA, Scalia asked, “What, then, are we doing here?”
According to Scalia, what the Court was doing in the last days of its term amounted to little more than self-important posturing. He called the decision to take the case “jaw-dropping. It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s representatives in Congress and the executive. It envisions a Supreme Court standing (or rather enthroned) at the apex of government.”
Scalia accused his colleagues of ideological immaturity in his conclusion.
“In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated,” Scalia wrote. “It is hard to admit that one’s political opponents are not monsters … the challenge in the end proves more than today’s court can handle. Too bad.”
In a much shorter dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts agreed with Scalia’s reasoning and also asserted that the federal government could enforce a definition of marriage in the interest of uniformity instead of leaving it to the states, because “none of those prior state by-state variations had involved differences over something — as the majority puts it — ‘thought of by most people as essential to the very definition of [marriage] and to its role and function throughout the history of civilization.'”