United Sates v. Windsor. Photo by Franz Jantzen, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

United States v. Windsor

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States held, in United States v. Windsor (Docket No. 12-307), that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally restricts the federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions–depriving persons of equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment.  The Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School has collected materials related to the Court’s opinion and the events in the Windsor case.  For more about this collection, please see the “About” link.

Windsor v. U.S./U.S. v. Windsor Timeline

June 20, 1929Edith Schlain Windsor is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family endures financial hardship during the great depression, but Windsor goes on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Temple University and a master’s degree in mathematics from NYU.
Oct. 8, 1931Thea Clara Spyer is born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Spyer suffers hardship as a child, losing her mother and having to flee Europe to escape the Holocaust. Spyer later receives a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the City University of New York, and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Adelphi University.
1963Spyer and Windsor meet at Portofino, a restaurant in the West Village in New York. After dinner, Dr. Spyer and Ms. Windsor dance the rest of the evening and begin to fall in love.
May 1965Spyer and Windsor reconnect in the Hamptons over Memorial Day Weekend. Spyer says of the weekend and life with Windsor, “It was a feeling of complete delight in being with her. I had a real sense of ‘I’ve landed in my life.’” When Thea asked Edie that weekend what Edie wanted in life, she responds, “Not much. I’d like to date for a year. And if that goes the way it is now, I think I’d like to be engaged, say for a year. And if it still feels this goofy joyous, I’d like us to spend the rest of our lives together.” The weekend marks the start of a committed relationship spanning the next forty-four years.
1967Spyer asks Windsor to marry her, despite the fact that no U.S. state affords legal recognition to same-sex couples, let alone provides for marriage rights. A circular diamond broach worn by Windsor symbolizes the beginning of their engagement.
1968Windsor and Spyer buy small house together on Long Island, where they spend the next forty summers.
1977Spyer is diagnosed with Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS), which causes a gradual but ever-increasing paralysis.
1981Congress passes unlimited marital deduction under 26 U.S.C. § 2056(a), allowing property to pass from a decedent to a surviving spouse free of the federal estate tax (P.L. 97-34, 95 Stat. 172). This is to avoid a so-called “widow’s tax.” See also H.R. Rep. No. 97-201 and S. Rep. No. 97-244.
1993New York City begins recognizing domestic partnerships between same-sex couples. Spyer and Windsor register as domestic partners on the very first day the city authorizes recognition.
1996Congress enacts the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). (Pub. L. 104–199, §3(a), Sept. 21, 1996, 110 Stat. 2419). Section 3 of DOMA defines “marriage” for purposes of determining the meaning of any Congressional or federal agency law, rule, or interpretation as being between “one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” Congress’ asserted rationale for DOMA is set forth in House of Representatives Report No. 104-664, which (as set forth in the Southern District of New York's opinion in Windsor's case) expresses Congress’ fear that states would begin to recognize same-sex marriages as legal.
2002Spyer is diagnosed with aortic stenosis, or a narrowing of the aortic valve of the heart, causing her to suffer a heart attack.
May. 22, 2007Spyer and Windsor marry in Toronto. Justice Harvey Brownstone of the North Toronto Family Court officiated at the Sheraton Gateway Hotel.
Feb. 9, 2009Spyer succumbs to complications from her heart condition, and passes away.
Apr. 24, 2009Spyer’s Last Will & Testament is admitted to probate, and Windsor is appointed executor of Spyer’s estate. The will directs Windsor to distribute the entire estate to the TCS Revocable Trust created by Spyer. Under the term of that Trust, because Windsor survives Spyer, the estate then transfers to the ESW Revocable Trust.
2009Based on its value, Spyer’s estate as held in the ESW Revocable Trust is subject to federal estate tax. The question then becomes whether the transfer of the estate to Windsor qualified for the deduction under 26 U.S.C. § 2056(a) for married couples – i.e. the deduction to avoid the “widow’s tax”. In turn, whether a couple is married for purposes of applying the estate tax marital deduction depends on whether the couple is considered validly married under the law of their state. However, in the case of same-sex couples, there is an express exclusion under Section 3 of DOMA (1 U.S.C. § 7), which defines marriage as between “one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.” Thus, because of DOMA’s Section 3, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) determines that the estate of a decedent whose surviving spouse is a person of the same sex as the decedent is not entitled to the marital deduction under 26 U.S.C. § 2056(a). As a direct result of DOMA, therefore, Spyer’s estate does not qualify for the deduction and Windsor is deemed to owe $363,053.00 in federal estate tax. DOMA also prevents Windsor from eligibility for Social Security lump-sum death benefit and widow’s insurance benefits ordinarily payable to surviving spouses under 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(i) and (e).
Nov. 5, 2009Windsor makes payment of the estate’s federal estate tax to the U.S. Treasury.
Apr. 7, 2010Windsor files a Claim for Refund and Request for Abatement and a Disclosure Statement with the IRS, stating that the couple was legally married in Toronto, NY state recognizes that marriage under local law, and DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation. Windsor asserts that Spyer’s estate is entitled to the marital deduction and a refund of the $363,053.00.
May 26, 2010IRS notifies Windsor that it has disallowed the estate’s claim for a refund on the grounds that, “[s]ince both spouses were women and since under DOMA ‘…the words [sic] “spouse refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife’, Section 2056 is inapplicable because the surviving spouse is not a spouse as defined by DOMA.”
Nov. 9, 2010Windsor files an original complaint in SDNY (Case No. 10 CV 8435 (BSJ) (JCF)) (hereinafter “SDNY Action”), “seeking a refund of the estate tax levied on a married same-sex couple, which would not have applied to a married straight couple, and which consequently violates the United States Constitution.”
Feb. 2, 2011Windsor files an Amended Complaint in the SDNY Action.
Feb. 23, 2011Attorney General Eric Holder announces that the U.S. Government will no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA. As explained in Atty. General Holder’s letter to Rep. John Boehner, the Attorney General and President believe that a heightened standard of scrutiny should apply to classifications based on sexual orientation, and that section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard.
June 2, 2011Given the Executive Branch’s decision not to enforce DOMA, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (BLAG) moves to intervene to defend the constitutionality of DOMA. BLAG’s motion is granted on June 2, 2011.
June 24, 2011Windsor files a summary judgment motion in the SDNY Action. Windsor argues that DOMA is subject to strict constitutional scrutiny because homosexuals are a suspect class, and DOMA fails under that standard of constitutional review—that is, the government cannot establish that DOMA is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling or legitimate government interest. Windsor also argues in the alternative that DOMA fails under the rational basis test if homosexuals are not a suspect class.
Aug. 1, 2011BLAG files a motion to dismiss the SDNY Action. BLAG argues that the weight of precedent compels the Court to review DOMA under only a rational basis standard and, under such standard, the legislation is justified.
Aug. 1, 2011BLAG also files an opposition to Windsor’s motion for summary judgment, turning on the same legal question as BLAG’s motion to dismiss.
Aug. 19, 2011Windsor opposes BLAG’s motion to dismiss.
Sept. 15, 2011Windsor files a reply brief in support of her motion for summary judgment.
June 6, 2012U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones of the SDNY issues an order (833 F. Supp. 2d 394) denying BLAG’s motion to dismiss, and granting Windsor’s motion for summary judgment.  The court’s opinion finds that: 
  1. Same-sex marriage is recognized under NY law;

  2. NY also recognizes same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions;

  3. Equal protection demands the government to treat all similarly situated persons alike

  4. The court need not decide whether homosexuals should be treated as a suspect class (which would require application of a strict scrutiny standard) because the case can be disposed of even by applying the rational basis standard

  5. DOMA's section 3 does not pass constitutional muster under the rational basis test, as the government’s asserted interests are not legitimate.  The court finds that DOMA does not advance Congress' stated rationales, some of which are not legitimate interests ab initio.

Section 3 of DOMA (1 U.S.C. § 7) is declared unconstitutional as applied to Windsor, who is awarded judgment of $353,053 plus interest and costs.
June 8, 2012BLAG files a notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, docketed on June 11, 2012 as Nos. 12-2335. The United States filed a notice of appeal on June 14, 2012, docketed on June 19, 2012 as No. 12-2435.
June 13, 2012Windsor files motion to expedite appeal within the Second Circuit, citing her age, health, and desire to see the constitutional claim of her spouse’s estate resolved during her lifetime. Pursuant to the grant of an expedited schedule, briefing before the Second Circuit would be due September 14, 2012, with oral arguments the week of September 24, 2012.
July 16, 2012Windsor files petition for certiorari before judgment (Case No. 12-63) under 28 U.S.C. § 2101(e), which allows for SCOTUS review prior to rendering of a final judgment by the court of appeals. Windsor asserts that, given the question’s exceptional national importance and the other factors cited (such as age, health, etc.), there is no reason for further delay in waiting for the appellate court’s determination before seeking SCOTUS’ resolution.
July 25, 2012Brief amici curiae of New York, et al. filed in support of Windsor (12-63).
August 31, 2012BLAG files an opposition to Windsor’s cert petition (12-63) before judgment, and opposes the United States’ similar petition.
September 5, 2012Windsor files a reply in support of her petition for cert (12-63) before judgment.
September 11, 2012The United States also files a petition for certiorari before judgment, in Case No. 12-307, arguing inter alia that SCOTUS should grant the petition only if it does not find that other pending cert petitions (Massachusetts, Golinski, & Pederson cases) are not better vehicles through which to resolve DOMA's constitutionality.
October 10, 2012Windsor responds to the United States' argument for a "conditional" cert petition (12-307), urging that both her cert petition and the United States' should both be granted, and grant should not be conditional upon whether review is also granted in other pending DOMA matters.
October 18, 2012The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issues its ruling in 12-2335 and No. 12-2435 (consolidated in 12-2435).  The Court of Appeals concludes that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.  Further, the Second Circuit held that Section 3 of DOMA is subject to intermediate scrutiny (with homosexuals to be considered a suspect class) under the factors enumerated in City of Cleburn v. Cleburn Living Center, 473 U.S. 431 (1985), and that DOMA does not withstand that review.
October 19, 2012BLAG opposes the United States' cert petition (12-307).
October 26, 2012Supplemental brief of petitioner United States filed in 12-307.  In light of the Second Circuit's Oct. 18th order, the United States now urges that its cert petition not be conditional upon whether review is granted in any other DOMA matter (i.e. Dept. of Health & Human Services v. Massachusetts)—and instead that the United States' petition vis-à-vis Windsor simply be granted as Windsor is now "the most appropriate vehicle for this Court's resolution of the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA."
October 29, 2012Because the United States has filed a supplemental brief now arguing in favor of SCOTUS granting its petition in 12-307 irrespective of other pending DOMA cases, Windsor now files a supplemental brief responding to the U.S.'s cert petition in 12-307 – this time in support of the petition given that it is no longer conditional.
November 1, 2012BLAG files a Supplemental Brief in 12-63 and 12-307 opposing Windsor's cert petition, arguing among other things that, while the constitutionality of DOMA should be resolved by SCOTUS, Windsor is not the proper vehicle in which to do that—and that the issue should instead be resolved by granting review in other pending DOMA matters.
November 8, 2012The United States files a reply in support of its cert petition in 12-307.
December 7, 2012SCOTUS grants the United States' petition for certiorari in 12-307—which now becomes the case upon which the DOMA question proceeds before SCOTUS.  The Court also appoints an amicus to brief the questions of whether the Executive Branch's agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives SCOTUS of jurisdiction to decide Windsor, whether BLAG has Article III standing in this case.  SCOTUS sets a briefing schedule and, January 7, 2013, sets argument in the case for March 27, 2013.
January 22, 2013BLAG files its merits brief in 12-307.
January 24, 2013Court-appointed amici file brief regarding jurisdiction.
January – March, 2013A series of amicus briefs are filed, both on issues of jurisdiction and the merits of the case.  (See SCOTUSBlog case summary page for 12-307 for links.)
February 22, 2013Respondent Edith Schlain Windsor briefs the issue of jurisdiction in 12-307.
February 26, 2013Windsor files her merits brief in 12-307, in support of the US petition for cert.
March 19, 2013BLAG files reply brief as to merits and jurisdiction.
March 20, 2013Reply briefs on the issue of jurisdiction are filed by the court-appointed amicus, Windsor, and the United States.
March 27, 2013Oral arguments are held.   Audio of hearing is available, along with preliminary copy of transcript.  Advocates are as follows:

  • Vicki C . Jackson  (appointed by the Court as amicus curiae -- jurisdiction)

  • Sri Srinivasan (Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioner supporting affirmance -- jurisdiction)

  • Paul D. Clement (for the respondent Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives -- jurisdiction & merits)

  • Donald B. Verrilli, Jr.(Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondent in support of affirmance -- merits)

  • Roberta A. Kaplan (for the respondent Windsor -- merits)
June 26, 2013Adjudged to be AFFIRMED (133 S.Ct. 2675). Kennedy, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Roberts, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined, and in which Roberts, C. J., joined as to Part I. Alito, J. filed a dissenting opinion, in which Thomas, J., joined as to Parts II and III.
June 27, 2013SCOTUS formally denies Windsor's petition in 12-63, having instead granted review and issued an opinion upon the United States' petition in 12-307.
July 29, 2013Judgment issued.
Factual references are taken from:(a) Windsor’s Amended Complaint, in case No. 10 Civ 8435 (http://docs.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/new-york/nysdce/1:2010cv08435/370870/9/);
(b) the Orders issued by the SDNY (https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/windsor.pdf), Second Circuit Court of Appeals (http://www.cov.com/files/upload/Windsor_Ruling.pdf), and U.S. Supreme Court (http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/570/12-307/opinion3.html); and
(c) the following news articles: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/26/edith-windsor-thea-spyer-doma, and http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/27/fashion/weddings/27spyer.html?_r=0.
Referenced filings and briefs may be downloaded from the following dockets pages:(a) Windsor v. U.S., No. 10 Civ 8435 (SDNY) (Windsor’s district court case) at http://dockets.justia.com/docket/new-york/nysdce/1:2010cv08435/370870/),
(b) Windsor v. U.S.,Nos. 12-2335 (2nd Circuit) (Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representative’s appeal from district court case) at http://dockets.justia.com/docket/circuit-courts/ca2/12-2335/ and Windsor v. U.S., Nos. 12-2435 (2nd Circuit) (United States’ appeal from district court case) at http://dockets.justia.com/docket/circuit-courts/ca2/12-2435/;
(c) Windsor v. U.S., No. 12-63 (Supreme Court) (Windsor’s petition for certiorari before judgment) at http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/windsor-v-united-states/; and
(d) United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (Supreme Court) (U.S.’s petition for certiorari before judgment) at http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/windsor-v-united-states-2/.