United States v. Windsor Case Brief

Facts of the case

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, states that, for the purposes of federal law, the words marriageand spouserefer to legal unions between one man and one woman. Since that time, some states have authorized same-sex marriage. In other cases regarding the DOMA, federal courts have ruled it unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, but the courts have disagreed on the rationale.Edith Windsor is the widow and sole executor of the estate of her late spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, who died in 2009. The two were married in Toronto, Canada, in 2007, and their marriage was recognized by New York state law. Thea Spyer left her estate to her spouse, and because their marriage was not recognized by federal law, the government imposed $363,000 in taxes. Had their marriage been recognized, the estate would have qualified for a marital exemption, and no taxes would have been imposed.On November 9, 2010 Windsor filed suit in district court seeking a declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. At the time the suit was filed, the government’s position was that DOMA must be defended. On February 23, 2011, the President and the Attorney General announced that they would not defend DOMA. On April 18, 2011, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives filed a petition to intervene in defense of DOMA and motioned to dismiss the case. The district court denied the motion, and later held that DOMA was unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.


The Court held that §3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that was protected by the Fifth Amendment . The statute was applicable to a wide variety of over 1,000 federal statutes and regulations in addition to the tax exemption, and was directed to a class of persons that New York State sought to protect by recognizing same-sex marriages. The Court held that the state’s decision to give same-sex couples the right to marry conferred upon them a dignity and status of immense import, but the government used the state-defined class for the opposite and improper purpose of imposing restrictions and disabilities, and DOMA, which sought to injure the very same-sex class the State sought to protect, violated basic due process and equal protection principles by identifying and making unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages.

  • Advocates: 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
  • Petitioner: United States
  • Respondent: Edith Windsor, in her capacity as the executor of the estate of Thea Clara Spyer, et al.
  • DECIDED BY:Roberts Court
  • Location: United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Citation: 570 US 744 (2013)
Granted: Dec 7, 2012
Argued: Mar 27, 2013
Decided: Jun 26, 2013
United States v. Windsor Case Brief