September 19, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
The federal district court judge hearing Sevcik v. Sandoval has vacated oral argument, previously scheduled for November 26, in its entirety. Sevcik, filed by Lambda Legal, is an equal protection challenge to Nevada’s constitutional ban of same-sex marriage. There was an initial hearing in the case on August 10, and the judge decided to hear arguments on the motions to dismiss as well as the motions for summary judgment, the merits of the case. As lead counsel in the case, Tara Borelli, told me at the time, “[A]s part of [an] agreement we made [prior to the hearing] with the other parties, we’ve all decided that that that issue should be rolled into a consideration of the merits of the case, so the judge can receive briefing on all the issues at once. [...] And so it now means we’re going to be on a quick briefing schedule. The parties are going to submit cross-motions for summary judgment in 30 days and then there will be 45 days for the parties to oppose each others’ motions and these will be complete substantive motions that will brief all of the legal issues and attach the relevant evidence, and the hearing has now been set in the case for November 26th in Reno at 9AM, when the judge will hear all of the substantive issues in the case.”
The judge seemed skeptical of the plaintiffs’ arguments at the time, suggesting, as we wrote, “This area you’re talking about[...]is so broad it’s across the entire United States. You’re asking them to summarize thousands of incidences.” Attorneys, he said, should tell courts what the law is, and he specifically questioned the course of action taken by Judge Vaughn Walker in the Prop 8 case in California with regard to allowing expert opinion on the changing shape of marriage in the United States and the difficulties faced by LGBT individuals.”
The plaintiffs argued that full briefing and argument, particularly with regard to the level of scrutiny that is required for classifications based on sexual orientation, would benefit the court in its ultimate decision. The judge, according to the hearing transcript, repeatedly expressed skepticism that he would be helped by oral argument or extensive expert witness testimony.
There was some initial confusion over the judge’s original order, so plaintiffs’ counsel sought clarification in a letter, asking the court whether the full argument was canceled or if the court will still hold arguments on the motions for summary judgment by plaintiffs and defendants. The judge clarified in an order that oral argument is vacated in its entirety, and that he will issue an opinion based on the briefs filed in the case.
Prop 8 Trial Tracker‘s own Jacob Combs was planning to attend oral argument in Nevada, but we will continue to follow developments in the case closely.
h/t Kathleen for these filings, and to Jon Davidson at Lambda Legal for additional information
Plaintiffs’ letter:2:12-cv-0057 #91
Clarifying order:2:12-cv-00578 #92