The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today affirmed a district court decision keeping an Arizona state law from going into effect that, as the appeals court puts it, "would have terminated eligibility for health-care benefits of state employees' same-sex partners."
The appeals court three-judge panel found that the district court opinion, in which the district court found that the plaintiffs, represented by Lambda Legal, met the standard for granting a preliminary injunction stopping the law from going into effect, was "supported by the record."
Arizona had appealed the trial court decision granting the injunction in the case, Diaz v. Brewer.
The appellate court went through the potential justifications for the law offered by the state, all of which were rejected by the disctrict court, and found that the district court had correctly rejected them.
In the appellate court's decision today, Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder, writing for the court, noted:
While the district court noted that Section O [the provision at issue] was not discriminatory on its face, because it affected both same-sex and different-sex couples, the court held that Section O had a dis- criminatory effect. This is because, under Arizona law, different-sex couples could retain their health coverage by marrying, but same-sex couples could not. Id. at 802-03. Therefore, the district court granted plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction on equal protection grounds.
Arizona could appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have discretion to accept the case or not. Additionally, the trial court will still need to rule on a permanent injunction, which would permanently keep the law from going into effect.
Lambda Legal staff attorney Tara Borelli, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February, said in a statement, "Today's decision by the Ninth Circuit means Arizona's lesbian and gay state employees will not suddenly find themselves without vital family health coverage, for as long as the decision stands. Our clients are simply seeking equal pay for equal work. We're confident that principle will continue to prevail as the case advances."
In a statement praising the decision issued by the Human Rights Campaign, HRC president Joe Solmonese said, "Governor Brewer's decision to take health care and insurance benefits away from state employees in same-sex relationships has been recognized for what it is: unconstitutional. During a time of economic difficulty for many Arizonans, it makes no sense for the state to make our families less secure and deny health care to our partners."