Did Notorious RBG drop a hint on marriage equality last weekend?

When the Supreme Court hears a case, they generally hold a first-round vote shortly after oral arguments are made and assign opinions, which are written over the summer. They then announce their decision toward the end of the term, generally some time in June.

This means that, assuming normal circumstances, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg likely knows the outcome of the ruling.

And last weekend, while officiating her third same-sex wedding, she may have dropped a hint. Per New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who was present at the wedding:

With a sly look and special emphasis on the word “Constitution,” Justice Ginsburg said that she was pronouncing the two men married by the powers vested in her by the Constitution of the United States.

It’s unclear as to whether Ginsburg’s emphasis was an expression of her own personal support for marriage equality — she spoke forcefully in favor of it during oral arguments last month — or an indication that couples in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee, Michigan and elsewhere will be able to participate in the same ceremonies that Ginsburg officiated in Washington on Sunday.

As Irin Cannon noted in MSNBC, the “Constitution” language is part of Ginsburg’s standard wedding script, so the fact that she included the word in the first place isn’t exceptional; just the emphasis. Most people who preside over weddings opt for “by the power vest in me, I pronounce you…” but Ginsburg has been adding “by the United States Constitution” to that line as early as 2000, when she presided over the wedding of one of the Supreme Court clerks.

In the event that Ginsburg’s point of emphasis is in fact an indicator of bigger things to come, it wouldn’t be the first. Perhaps the clearest tea leaf the Court has given the public to read so far has been its February refusal to grant a stay on a federal judge’s order that invalidated Alabama’s same-sex marriage ban. In previous cases in which a lower court had overturned a ban, the ruling had been stayed in lieu of the ruling being reversed by the Supreme Court. It creates less chaos to make same-sex couples wait to marry than it would to let them marry and then tell them only a few months later that their wedding didn’t count.

That the Court declined to issue a stay, permitting same-sex couples in Alabama to marry despite the fact that they were considering the issue at the time, was taken as an indication by many, including the Court’s conservative justices, that the oral arguments would be nothing more than a show. As Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent, the decision to not issue the stay “may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution.”

To be clear, the Court could still rule against marriage equality. It would be utter chaos if they did, but it’s not impossible. In any case, Notorious RBG’s point of emphasis on Sunday was a welcome endorsement at least, and a cause for celebration at best.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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7 Responses to “Did Notorious RBG drop a hint on marriage equality last weekend?”

  1. nichole.davi says:

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  2. dcinsider says:

    I think that is unlikely. The question is not before them.

  3. Indigo says:

    He’s a preppy. Even now.

  4. FLL says:

    I still think that Roberts is a vain man, both physically and intellectually, which seems to argue for him either joining the majority or at least issuing a separate but “concurring” opinion. Someone who is intellectually vain doesn’t want to end up on the wrong side of history. As far as physical vanity, I can see his two buddies in the lobster-dinner photo below wearing a white polo shirt or a white t-shirt… but a white sweater?!

  5. BeccaM says:

    To the same degree I was not hopeful in the early summer of 2013 when they were considering the DOMA and Prop H8 challenges, this time I am hopeful. However it is tempered with a growing concern that the Supes may attempt to continue to carve out religious exemptions to allow discrimination against same-sex marriages.

  6. dcinsider says:

    42 days until June 30th.

  7. 2patricius2 says:

    So little time, so much hope, and so long the wait seems for marriage equality decisions in Ireland and the US.

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