TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — On Tuesday the Supreme Court of Alabamaprohibited the state’s probate judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This decision effectively throws down the gauntlet, challenging the federal courts to make earlier federal rulings stick — including last month’s refusal by the United States Supreme Court to stay a federal judge’s decision requiring the state to recognize same-sex marriages. It draws on a disturbing line of thinking in the history of American federalism, one that, were it to gain currency as a model, could compromise our entire system of law.
The court’s position is that under the Constitution, it does not have to follow the rulings of lower federal courts; in its ruling, it promises to “defer only to the holdings of the United States Supreme Court.” (That said, Chief Justice Roy Moore’s public statements have been more equivocal; he told a radio host in Birmingham, Ala., “It would be a very hard decision, because I know there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that authorizes the Supreme Court of the United States or any federal court anywhere to misinterpret the word marriage.”)
Such extreme states’ rights positions first appeared during an epic battle between the great chief justice John Marshall and Spencer Roane, a member of the Virginia Court of Appeals. The two were bitter political and ideological enemies in the early years of the republic, and Roane had long railed against the authority of the federal Supreme Court over state courts. He repeatedly declined to implement federal decisions with which he disagreed, and refused to recognize the authority of federal courts to review state court rulings. In the end, however, Marshall prevailed.
Read the whole story at The New York Times