Anonymous asked in Politics & GovernmentLaw & Ethics · 2 months ago

Supreme Court ruled against gay marriage in Baker v. Nelson (1972), yet this wasn't considered binding precedent for lower courts to follow?


in future cases, lower courts and appellate courts ruled in favor of gay marriage.

The Supreme Court declined to take up the case.

(it wasn't until the 6th circuit ruled against gay marriage, that they finally took up the case.)

How did they get away with not following precedent?

4 Answers

  • jamie
    Lv 4
    2 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    in Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013), U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized her view of Baker: "The Supreme Court hadn't even decided that gender-based classifications get any kind of heightened scrutiny. And the same-sex intimate conduct was considered criminal in many states in 1971, so I don't think we can extract much in Baker v. Nelson."

    That's the reason Baker v. Nelson was no longer good law.

    To those saying Baker v. Nelson wasn't a binding precedent because it was just a "Dismissal for want of a substantial federal question" --- that would be incorrect; those kinds of rulings are in fact binding precedents, and the court has ruled on this before:

    "[U]ntil the Supreme Court should instruct otherwise, inferior federal courts had best adhere to the view that the Court has branded a question as unsubstantial". Hicks v. Miranda, 422 U.S. 332, 344 (1975) "[D]ismissals for want of a substantial federal question without doubt reject the specific challenges presented in the statement of jurisdiction". Mandel v. Bradley, 432 U.S. 173, 176 (1977). Lower Federal Courts are expressly prohibited from ruling in a way inconsistent with binding precedent. "[Summary decisions] prevent lower courts from coming to opposite conclusions on the precise issues presented and necessarily decided by those actions." Mandel v. Bradley, 432 U.S. 173, 176 (1977)

  • 2 months ago

    In Baker v. Nelson, the Supreme Court did not actually rule for or against gay marriage.  It merely ruled that there was no "federal issue" allowing it to overturn a state court ruling that said that states could, if they wished, refuse to issue licenses for gay marriages.  Due to technicalities of the circumstances, it's unclear whether this ruling meant anything more than that the issue was moot because the gay couple that had filed the suit had already gotten married in another county.  Moreover, even if the Supreme Court had clearly stated it was agreeing with the state court, the issue was only whether states could refuse to license gay marriages, not whether they had to, so allowing a state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples would not be against the precedent.

  • Anonymous
    2 months ago

    The MINNESOTA Supreme Court rules against gay marriage.  The US Supreme Court did not.  This is not an unusual situation - many State decisions are not heard by/not respect by the US Supreme Court.  The US Supreme Court has NO obligation to follow the rulings of lower (State) Courts.  This case was originally decided on the merits.  That makes a difference.

    I don't care for Wikipedia's explanations of laws, BUT they cover it very well here:

    "Richard John Baker v. Gerald R. Nelson, 291 Minn. 310, 191 N.W.2d 185 (1971), is a case in which the Minnesota Supreme Court decided that construing a marriage statute to limit licenses to persons of the opposite sex "does not offend" the U.S. Constitution. Baker appealed the decision, and on October 10, 1972, the United States Supreme Court dismissed the appeal "for want of a substantial federal question".  Because the case came to the U.S. Supreme Court through mandatory appellate review (not certiorari), the dismissal constituted a decision on the merits and established Baker v. Nelson as precedent, though the extent of its precedential effect had been subject to debate.  In May 2013, Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage and it took effect on August 1, 2013.  Subsequently, on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly overruled Baker in Obergefell v. Hodges, making same-sex marriage legal nationwide."

  • 2 months ago

    The question of precedent is VERY complex. Sometimes the lower courts find that the case before them is not sufficiently like the precedental case, so they are free to say that it doesn’t apply. 

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