Second Circuit: DOMA Unconstitutional In Estate Tax Case

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that Clause 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The case originated with a refund claim for overpaid estate taxes. Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were a married homosexual couple from New York. Upon Thea’s death, Edie paid $363,053 in federal estate taxes because she was not eligible for the unlimited marital deduction under IRC Section 2056(a) – a benefit routinely applied to married couples of different sexes. When Edie’s claim for refund of the estate taxes was denied she filed a refund action in U.S. District Court.

The trial court held that DOMA denied Ms. Windsor equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 5th Amendment to United States Constitution. The three judge appellate panel agreed. It added that “homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination” and thus the proper legal standard for determining Constitutional protections is intermediate scrutiny. The court held that DOMA could not meet that standard and thus Edie’s 5th Amendment right to equal protection under the law was violated when the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code applied differently to her than to other surviving spouses.

Read the opinion here:
Windsor v. U.S., No. 12-2335 (2d Cir. Oct. 12, 2012)