Romer v. Evans: Wikis


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Romer v. Evans
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued October 10, 1995
Decided May 20, 1996
Full case name Roy Romer, Governor of Colorado, et al. v. Richard G. Evans, et al.
Citations 517 U.S. 620 (more)
116 S. Ct. 1620; 134 L. Ed. 2d 855; 1996 U.S. LEXIS 3245; 64 U.S.L.W. 4353; 70 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1180; 68 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P44,013; 96 Cal. Daily Op. Service 3509; 96 Daily Journal DAR 5730; 9 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 607
Prior history Preliminary injunction granted to plaintiffs, 1993 WL 19678 (Colo. Dist.Ct. 1993); affirmed, 854 P.2d 1270 (Colo. 1993); certiorari denied, 510 U.S. 959 (1993); injunction made permanent, 1993 WL 518586 (Colo. Dist.Ct. 1993); affirmed, 882 P.2d 1335 (Colo. 1994); certiorari granted, 513 U.S. 1146 (1995)
Subsequent history None
An amendment to the Colorado Constitution that prevents protected status under the law for homosexuals or bisexuals was struck down because it was not rationally related to a legitimate state interest. Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Kennedy, joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer
Dissent Scalia, joined by Rehnquist, Thomas
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Colo. Const. art. II, § 30b

Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), is a United States Supreme Court case dealing with civil rights and state laws. The Court gave its ruling on May 20, 1996 against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action from recognizing homosexual citizens as a Protected class.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruling

The case was argued on October 10, 1995. On May 20, 1996, the court ruled 6-3 that Colorado's Amendment 2 was unconstitutional, though on different reasoning than the Colorado courts. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

Rejecting the state's argument that Amendment 2 merely blocked gay people from receiving "special rights", Kennedy wrote:

To the contrary, the amendment imposes a special disability upon those persons alone. Homosexuals are forbidden the safeguards that others enjoy or may seek without constraint.

Kennedy argued that protection offered by antidiscrimination laws was not a "special right" because they protected fundamental rights already enjoyed by all other citizens. Though antidiscrimination laws "enumerated" certain groups which they protected, this merely served to put others on notice (i.e., the enumeration was merely declaratory).

Instead of applying "strict scrutiny" to Amendment 2 (as Colorado Supreme Court had required) Kennedy wrote that it did not even meet the much lower requirement of having a rational relationship to a legitimate government purpose:

Its sheer breadth is so discontinuous with the reasons offered for it that the amendment seems inexplicable by anything but animus toward the class that it affects; it lacks a rational relationship to legitimate state interests.


[Amendment 2] is at once too narrow and too broad. It identifies persons by a single trait and then denies them protection across the board. The resulting disqualification of a class of persons from the right to seek specific protection from the law is unprecedented in our jurisprudence.

Kennedy did not go into depth in rejecting the claims put forward in support of the law (protecting the rights of landlords to evict gay tenants if they found homosexuality morally offensive, etc.) because he held that the law was so unique as to "confound this normal process of judicial review" and "defies...conventional inquiry." This conclusion was supported by his assertion that "It is not within our constitutional tradition to enact laws of this sort." Finding that "laws of the kind now before us raise the inevitable inference that the disadvantage imposed is born of animosity toward the class of persons affected," the Court implied that the passage of Amendment 2 was born of a "bare...desire to harm" homosexuals.


Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissent which was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Clarence Thomas. Scalia wrote:

[Amendment 2 is] a modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through use of the laws. That objective, and the means chosen to achieve it, are [...] unimpeachable under any constitutional doctrine hitherto pronounced.

Scalia argued that Amendment 2 did not deny homosexuals access to the political process but merely made it more difficult to enact laws that they favored. He noted that the majority's result stood in flat contradiction to the court's earlier decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), in which it had ruled that laws outlawing sodomy are not unconstitutional. That was based on the fact that Bowers had rejected a rational-basis challenge to sodomy laws on the grounds that traditional moral disapproval furnished such a rational basis. Scalia noted:

If it is rational to criminalize the conduct, surely it is rational to deny special favor and protection to those with a self-avowed tendency or desire to engage in the conduct.

Justice Scalia also asked how the holding of the majority could be reconciled with Davis v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890):

"remains to be explained how §501 of the Idaho Revised Statutes was not an "impermissible targeting" of polygamists, but (the much more mild) Amendment 2 is an "impermissible targeting" of homosexuals. Has the Court concluded that the perceived social harm of polygamy is a "legitimate concern of government," and the perceived social harm of homosexuality is not?"

Against what he saw as judicial activism, he wrote:

Since the Constitution of the United States says nothing about this subject [homosexuality], it is left to be resolved by normal democratic means, including the democratic adoption of provisions in state constitutions.

Justice Scalia stated that the Court should take no part in what is termed the "culture war". After quoting a passage from Murphy v. Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15 (1885) which had praised governmental favouring of heterosexual monogamy, Justice Scalia wrote the following:

"I would not myself indulge in such official praise for heterosexual monogamy, because I think it no business of the courts (as opposed to the political branches) to take sides in this culture war. But the Court today has done so, not only by inventing a novel and extravagant constitutional doctrine to take the victory away from traditional forces, but even by verbally disparaging as bigotry adherence to traditional attitudes."

The dissent ends as follows:

"Today's opinion has no foundation in American constitutional law, and barely pretends to. The people of Colorado have adopted an entirely reasonable provision which does not even disfavor homosexuals in any substantive sense, but merely denies them preferential treatment. Amendment 2 is designed to prevent piecemeal deterioration of the sexual morality favored by a majority of Coloradans, and is not only an appropriate means to that legitimate end, but a means that Americans have employed before. Striking it down is an act, not of judicial judgment, but of political will. I dissent."


In 1993, Cincinnati, Ohio passed Ballot Issue 3, an amendment to the city charter which forbade the city from adopting or enforcing civil rights ordinances based on sexual orientation, the only municipality in the United States to pass such a restriction. The wording of Cincinnati's amendment was almost identical to that of Colorado's. The amendment was upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 1996 but remanded by the Supreme Court for further consideration in 1997 in the wake of the Romer decision. The Sixth Circuit upheld the amendment a second time, differentiating it from the state-level amendment on the grounds that it was a local government action of the type that Amendment 2 was designed to pre-empt. On October 13, 1998, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal, allowing the Sixth Circuit decision and the city amendment to stand.[1] In 2005, Cincinnati voters overturned the amendment.[2]

Since Romer stood in obvious tension with the Court's earlier decision in Bowers v. Hardwick, 478 U.S. 186 (1986), it laid the groundwork for 2003's Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003), which overturned Bowers. Romer, however, has not been widely cited beyond Lawrence, no doubt because Kennedy emphasized the "special" nature of Amendment 2 and refused to apply traditional rational-basis analysis to the Colorado law.

In this case, the court lined up in almost the same way as in Lawrence, though in Lawrence Justice O'Connor concurred in the judgment on different grounds.

In 2007, fifteen years after the referendum on Amendment 2, a law was passed that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity for all employers in Colorado.

See also

Further reading

  • Hasian, Marouf A., Jr.; Parry-Giles, Trevor (1997). "‘A Stranger to Its Laws’: Freedom, Civil Rights, and the Legal Ambiguity of Romer v. Evans". Argumentation and Advocacy 34: 27–42. ISSN 10511431.  
  • Murdoch, Joyce; Price, Deb (2001). "The Constitution 'Neither Knows nor Tolerates Classes among Citizens'". Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465015131.  


External links

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Romer v. Evans
Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620 (1996), was a United States Supreme Court case dealing with civil rights and state laws. The Court gave its ruling on May 20, 1996 against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to protect homosexual citizens from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.Excerpted from Romer v. Evans on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Wikipedia article
517 U.S. 620
Romer v. Evans
No. 94-1039 Argued: October 10, 1995 --- Decided: May 20, 1996

After various Colorado municipalities passed ordinances banning discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, public accommodations, health and welfare services, and other transactions and activities, Colorado voters adopted by statewide referendum “Amendment 2” to the State Constitution, which precludes all legislative, executive, or judicial action at any level of state or local government designed to protect the status of persons based on their ‘‘homosexual, lesbian or bisexual orientation, conduct, practices or relationships. Respondents, who include aggrieved homosexuals and municipalities, commenced this litigation in state court against petitioner state parties to declare Amendment 2 invalid and enjoin its enforcement. The trial court's grant of a preliminary injunction was sustained by the Colorado Supreme Court, which held that Amendment 2 was subject to strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it infringed the fundamental right of gays and lesbians to participate in the political process. On remand, the trial court found that the Amendment failed to satisfy strict scrutiny. It enjoined Amendment 2's enforcement, and the State Supreme Court affirmed.

Held: Amendment 2 violates the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 4-14.

(a) The State's principal argument that Amendment 2 puts gays and lesbians in the same position as all other persons by denying them special rights is rejected as implausible. The extent of the change in legal status effected by this law is evident from the authoritative construction of Colorado's Supreme Court—which establishes that the amendment's immediate effect is to repeal all existing statutes, regulations, ordinances, and policies of state and local entities barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, and that its ultimate effect is to prohibit any governmental entity from adopting similar, or more protective, measures in the future absent state constitutional amendment—and from a review of the terms, structure, and operation of the ordinances that would be repealsed and prohibited by Amendment 2. Even if, as the State contends, homosexuals can find protection in laws and policies of general application, Amendment 2 goes well beyond merely depriving them of special rights. It imposes a broad disability upon those persons alone, forbidding them, but no others, to seek specific legal protection from injuries caused by discrimination in a wide range of public and private transactions. Pp. 4-9.

(b) In order to reconcile the Fourteenth Amendment's promise that no person shall be denied equal protection with the practical reality that most legislation classifies for one purpose or another, the Court has stated that it will uphold a law that neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class so long as the legislative classification bears a rational relation to some independent and legitimate legislative end. See, e.g., Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 319-320. Amendment 2 fails, indeed defies, even this conventional inquiry. First, the amendment is at once too narrow and too broad, identifying persons by a single trait and then denying them the possibility of protection across the board. This disqualification of a class of persons from the right to obtain specific protection from the law is unprecedented and is itself a denial of equal protection in the most literal sense. Second, the sheer breadth of Amendment 2, which makes a general announcement that gays and lesbians shall not have any particular protections from the law, is so far removed from the reasons offered for it, i.e., respect for other citizens' freedom of association, particularly landlords or employers who have personal or religious objections to homosexuality, and the State's interest in conserving resources to fight discrimination against other groups, that the amendment cannot be explained by reference to those reasons; the Amendment raises the inevitable inference that it is born of animosity toward the class that it affects. Amendment 2 cannot be said to be directed to an identifiable legitimate purpose or discrete objective. It is a status-based classification of persons undertaken for its own sake, something the Equal Protection Clause does not permit. Pp. 9-14.

882 P. 2d 1335, affirmed.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, O'CONNOR, SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and THOMAS, J., joined.

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