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Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly

Abstract

This article offers the first comprehensive history of the marriageequality litigation process leading from Windsor to Obergefell. It explores how four aspects of federal procedure and jurisdiction doctrine both enabled and frustrated marriage equality's advancement to the Supreme Court. First, we examine common misconceptions about how judgments, injunctions, and judicial precedent control real-world conduct and how litigation brings about legal reform. These misconceptions reached their nadir in Alabama in spring 2015. Guided by Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama officials properly declined to follow persuasive precedent, prompting unfortunate and inaccurate comparisons to George Wallace and Massive Resistance, and to Brown and desegregation. Second, we examine the pivotal but underappreciated role of stays pending appeal in constitutional litigation. In particular, we consider how denials of stays triggered concurrent races to the courts of appeals and to the altars. The Court's transmission of signals through unexplained stays and denials of certiorari exacerbated the confusion in the lower courts and the states, highlighting a penumbra of what one scholar calls the Court's "shadow docket." Finally, we examine unsuccessful efforts by state attorneys general to move marriage cases out of federal court by initiating state-court litigation and urging federal abstention. This article makes a first contribution to the scholarly discussion of marriage equality by focusing on the critical but underdeveloped procedural nuances of high-stakes civil rights litigation. By considering the process of marriage equality, we better understand this societal evolution and future constitutional revolutions.

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