SAN FRANCISCO – A federal appeals court on Tuesday refused to reconsider its ruling granting heightened legal protections to gays and lesbians, prompting three dissenting judges to warn of far-reaching implications in same-sex marriage cases in the Western United States.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January banned the exclusion of potential jurors because of their sexual orientation, saying such action was akin to striking someone from the jury pool because of their race or gender.
An undisclosed majority of the full 29-judge court voted against rehearing the case over the objections of three judges.
The dissenters, led by Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain argued that the ruling "bears significant implications for the same-sex marriage debate and for other laws that may give rise to distinctions based on sexual orientation."
O'Scannlain argues giving gays and lesbians the same protections as minorities and women prematurely decides the same-sex marriage issue without the U.S. Supreme Court's input. O'Scannlain pointed out that officials in Nevada and Oregon have cited the 9th Circuit opinion to drop official opposition to same-sex marriage.
A week after the Jan. 21 ruling, for instance, Carson City District Attorney Neil Rombardo withdrew opposition to a lawsuit challenging Nevada's gay marriage ban, citing the 9th Circuit juror ruling that he called a "game changer."
O'Scannlain was joined by Judges Jay Bybee and Carlos Bea. All three judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
The ruling is binding in the nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit, including the four states with pending same-sex marriage cases: Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Nevada.
The juror case arises from a legal dispute between two rival drug companies over the price of a popular AIDS drug. After Abbott Laboratories won a favorable jury verdict in 2011, SmithKline Beecham appealed to the 9th Circuit arguing the dismissal of a gay juror was improper.
The appeals court agreed and tossed out the verdict and ordered a new trial. Abbott said it wouldn't appeal the decision any further.