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'Marriage Protection Act Undermines Supreme Court and Our System of Checks and Balances'

WASHINGTON, July 22 /PRNewswire/ -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
spoke this afternoon on the House floor in opposition to H.R. 3313, the so-
called Marriage Protection Act of 2004, which would strip jurisdiction from
federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, preventing them from ruling
on challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The bill was later
approved by a vote of 233 to 194. Below are Pelosi's remarks:

On Marriage Protection Act:

"This bill will impact the very foundation of our government -- it impedes
the uniformity of federal law, it sets a dangerous precedent, and it does
grave damage to the separation of powers."

"Mr. Speaker, I have been married for over 40 years. And I cannot, for
the life of me, think how this legislation that is on the floor today, the so-
called Marriage Protection Act, is any protection for my marriage. In fact, I
think it is not a protection of the rights of Americans.
"Every Member of this body has taken a solemn oath to protect and defend
the Constitution of the United States. That is our oath of office.
"All Members should consider that this bill has far-reaching consequences
for the separation of powers that has been the hallmark of our Constitution,
our government, and our rights as American citizens. We must today honor our
oath of office and oppose this legislation.
"This court stripping bill is not about reaffirming the Defense of
Marriage Act, or even about gay marriage. The fundamental issue in this bill
is whether we want to undermine the Supreme Court, the federal judiciary and
our system of checks and balances.
"This bill will impact the very foundation of our government -- it impedes
the uniformity of federal law, it sets a dangerous precedent, and it does
grave damage to the separation of powers.
"When former Senator Barry Goldwater spoke against a court stripping bill
in 1982, he warned his colleagues in the other body that it was a 'frontal
assault on the independence of the federal courts, and it is a dangerous blow
to the foundations of a free society.' We must heed that warning today.
"This bill would prohibit federal courts, including the Supreme Court of
the United States, from hearing cases related to the interpretation and 'the
validity under the Constitution' of the 'full faith and credit' provision of
the Defense of Marriage Act, as well as this court stripping bill.
"If passed, it would constitute the first time in the over 200 years of
our country's history that Congress has enacted legislation totally
eliminating any federal court from considering the constitutionality of
federal legislation. Only state courts would be able to decide questions
related to this provision of a federal statute.
"The irony of that is, if your state passed a law that allowed gay
marriages, and you wanted to challenge it in federal court, you would only be
confined to challenging it in a state court in your state. So even those who
would oppose gay marriage would not have recourse to the federal courts.
"I know that the gay marriage issue is a difficult issue for many people,
and I respect that. But do not let that bait take you down a path that would
have you dishonor the oath of office that you took to become a Member of this
"Attempting by statute to remove the Supreme Court's -- and the entire
federal judiciary's -- power to hear a class of cases, and to even determine
the constitutional validity of a statute, is nothing more than a backdoor
attempt to amend the Constitution by simple majority.
"It would effectively end the Supreme Court's role as a separate and
independent branch of government. It would eliminate all means of reconciling
conflicting state court interpretations of the Constitution. Think about
that. If passed, it would prevent the Supreme Court from being the guardian
of our rights.
"It has been a settled principle since Chief Justice John Marshall's
opinion in 1803 in Marbury v. Madison, which has been oft quoted here today.
Marbury v. Madison stated that it is emphatically the 'province and the duty'
of the judicial department to say what the law is. Subsequent decisions and
the court's role as an equal branch strongly suggest that Congress cannot
prohibit the court from determining the validity of a law in the first place.
"Indeed, the author of this legislation here today stated that he believed
that the part of Marbury v. Madison that established judicial review was
'wrongly decided.' Over 200 years of precedent was 'wrongly decided' -- a
view that can only be characterized as radical.
"Just two months ago, we all celebrated the 50th anniversary of Brown v.
Board of Education. If the precedent established by this bill had been in
force in 1954, there may have been no Brown decision. Imagine what would have
happened to all the advances in civil rights without that ruling. Imagine how
little we would have had to celebrate.
"Numerous legal experts, including some from the other party, indicate
that this bill will likely be found unconstitutional.
"The court stripping issue is not a new one. Numerous proposals have been
made since the Civil War, but have not been adopted because Congress wisely
exercised restraint and respected the separation of powers and our
constitutional framework.
"More recently, in 1981 and 1982, more than 30 court stripping proposals
were introduced, primarily by former Senator Jesse Helms, to remove such
issues as school prayer, reproductive rights, and school busing from federal
courts' jurisdiction. They all failed -- thanks to the principled opposition
on a bipartisan basis, principally that of, as quoted earlier, Senator Barry
Goldwater and then-Attorney General, under President Ronald Reagan, William
French Smith.
"Mr. Speaker, now as then, full jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is
fundamental under our system of government for a uniform and consistent
interpretation of the law -- even when we do not agree with the Court's
"The impact of this legislation goes far beyond the subject matter that
the proponents claim to be concerned with. Our Founders carefully constructed
our system of checks and balances, which we tamper with at our peril. It is
unwise and politically motivated, I believe; it is designed simply to distract
attention from the real issues that we should be dealing with.
"Today, Mr. Speaker, millions of Americans are looking for work, millions
more Americans do not have access to quality health care since President Bush
took office. Our children are not receiving the quality of education that
they deserve, to have the opportunity that is the promise of our country. We
are driving ourselves deeply into debt with the irresponsible and reckless
economic policies of the Republicans here, giving our children obligations
instead of opportunity. We have our men and women in uniform in harm's way
without the proper equipment, training, and intelligence to get the job done.
And we want them to be second to none, and we will make sure they have what
they need. But we must take the time to do that. But instead, what are we
"Instead, we are gathering here to talk about discrimination, to talk
about undermining the Constitution of the United States, to talk about
dishonoring the oath of office that we take to protect and defend the
Constitution. I agree with those who say this bill is 'as wrong as wrong can
be.' In short, this bill is bad law and bad policy. That's why it will not
have my support."

SOURCE Office of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Web Site: http://democraticleader.house.gov

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