House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday predicted that the Supreme Court would overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), providing a high-profile legal victory to gay-rights advocates.
"On the basis of what I heard, the questions of the justices, the response of the participants, I'm very optimistic that DOMA will be struck down," she told reporters after having watched this morning's oral arguments in a high court case challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 law.
Pelosi said she does not think the law has a rational basis under the Constitution, and said it fails to provide equal protection. She predicted that these arguments would weigh heavily with the justices.
"On either score, the argument, the debate seemed to favor striking down DOMA," she said.
Pelosi said she was sitting with Edie Windsor, who challenged the law after she was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes after her wife died and the IRS did not recognize her same-sex marriage as legitimate. The court on Wednesday weighed her suit in United States v. Windsor.
"Edie Windsor is a very courageous, brave woman," Pelosi said.
Pelosi famously predicted last year that the court would uphold President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law as constitutional in a 6-3 vote. The court ultimately agreed with her in a 5-4 vote.
But the Democratic leader declined to predict the exact vote count in this decision.
"I'm not going to give you a number," she said.
Many court observers saw signs in Wednesday’s oral arguments that the justices could be preparing to strike the law down.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote in the Court, asked openly whether the federal government should be playing any role in regulating marriage, arguing that it infringed on states’ rights to define marriage. Liberal justices argued that the law created a second-class tier for marriage by failing to extend benefits to same-sex couples.
A federal appeals court ruled in 2012 that DOMA is unconstitutional, leading to today’s appeal before the high court after House Republicans moved to defend the law.
Pelosi again criticized House Republicans for spending $3 million to defend DOMA. She said the GOP spent that money under the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), even though there was never a bipartisan agreement to defend the law this way.
She said that allowed Republicans to "speak" in favor of a divisive law using taxpayer money.
"I think their behavior has been not a model for the future, let's put it that way," she said.
She argued that Republicans know DOMA is unconstitutional, which is why they pursued legislation aimed at preventing courts from ruling on the law.
"Why would you pass a bill in the Congress, in the House, that said that courts do not have the right to rule on the constitutionality of a bill if you thought it could withstand that test?" she asked. "Because you don't think it can withstand that test."
Pelosi also ribbed Paul Clement, the lawyer who delivered the GOP's arguments in favor of DOMA before the court today.
"What a stale role to play in life," she said.
Pelosi said people in her home district of San Francisco have always believed that same-sex marriage freedom would exist someday, and that the court's ruling will likely confirm that belief.
"From our beautiful place in San Francisco ... we knew that it was inevitable that all this would happen. It was inconceivable to others that it would, and it was our job to use whatever influence we could have to shorten the distance between the inevitable and the inconceivable. And I think that's what's happening at the court."
She said one of the factors that is making same-sex marriage more acceptable is that more and more family members are coming out in support of it, and are coming out as members of the LGBT community.
In the last week, a number of Democratic senators have publicly endorsed same-sex marriage.