Justice Alito renews criticism of landmark ruling on same-sex marriage

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on Tuesday he renewed his criticism of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling recognizing the right to same-sex marriage, saying people who oppose homosexuality risk being unfairly “labelled as bigots and treated as such”.

Justice included his warning a five-page statement explaining why the court refused Missouri case hearing request about people thrown off juries after expressing religious objections to gay relationships. The case, Justice Alito wrote, “exemplifies the danger” of the court’s 2015 decision, Obergefell v. Hodges.

The ruling, he added, shows how “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual behavior will be ‘branded as bigots and treated as such’ by the government.”

The statement appeared to offer insight into Justice Alito’s continued dissatisfaction with Hodges, in which the court, by a 5-4 vote, guaranteed the right to same-sex marriage, a long-sought victory for the gay rights movement.

In the years since, Justice Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas, who both dissented from the 2015 decision, have appeared to urge the court to reconsider the ruling. The court, they claimed, invented a law that was not based on the text of the Constitution and said that it “declared people of good will to be fanatics.”

Only two members of the court who ruled in Obergefell’s favor remained on the bench – Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The court has since been transformed under the presidency of Donald J. Trump with the addition of three conservative justices who solidified a conservative supermajority.

The case at issue Tuesday, Missouri Department of Corrections v. Jean Finney, no. 23-203, involved a dispute over the dismissal of jurors who expressed religious concerns about homosexual relationships during jury selection in an employment discrimination case.

Jean Finney, an employee of the Missouri Department of Corrections, claimed that after beginning a same-sex relationship with the ex-spouse of a co-worker, the co-worker made Ms. Finney’s job unbearable. The co-worker spread rumors about her, sent demeaning messages and withheld information she needed to perform her job duties, Ms. Finney said. Ms. Finney sued the Department of Corrections, accusing the department of being responsible for her colleague’s actions.

During jury selection, Ms. Finney’s attorney questioned potential jurors about their religious beliefs about sexuality. Among the questions: “How many of you grew up in a religious organization where you were taught that people who are gay shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else because what they were doing was a sin?”

A trial attorney decided to strike certain jurors based on his questions, according to a Department of Corrections legal filing. The filing questioned the trial attorney’s position, saying he essentially supported the idea that “a person with traditional religious beliefs should never sit on a jury when the party was in a same-sex relationship, because when a potential juror believes as a religious matter ‘that is a sin, there is no way to rehabilitate’.”

A lawyer for the Department of Corrections objected, saying that such a request amounted to religious discrimination.

The trial judge granted Ms. Finney’s attorney’s request for a juror impeachment, and the jury sided with Ms. Finney, prompting the Department of Corrections to request a new trial.

The Department of Corrections argued that by excluding jurors who expressed their religious beliefs, the trial judge violated the 14th Amendment.

After the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the ruling and the state Supreme Court declined to review the case, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office asked the United States Supreme Court to take over the case.

Although Justice Alito wrote that he reluctantly agreed that the court should not take up the case, he said he remained concerned about the issue.

“I am concerned that the lower court’s reasoning may be expanded and may be a foretaste of things to come,” he wrote.

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