I don't want to see a summary judgement by federal Judge Karen Schreier in the gay marriage case that's in her court right now. (Definition time: A summary judgment is a judgment made by a judge for one party and against another party without a full trial). A group of same sex couples is challenging South Dakota's ban on same-sex marriages in U.S. District Judge Schreier's court and both sides are now seeking a ruling by the judge, bypassing a trial altogether. The plaintiff's in the case, the same-sex couples themselves, asked for summary judgement last Summer, and now today comes news that South Dakota's Attorney General wants the judge to reject that motion and act on his instead. The legal niceties of the need for Schreier to reject the plaintiff's motion in order to act on the same motion made by the defendant go past me, but it's obvious that both sides want to skip a trial and get a ruling now.
No doubt the opposite parties of this dispute have good reason for wanting to be done with the mechanics and time required by a trial. In general, from what I've followed of these things, I get a sense that summary judgements are made as a matter of efficiency. They certainly save a lot of very expensive legal time, and I suppose in this case Judge Schreier has a good handle on what both sides have to say about their respective positions. Probably, in those cases where the outcome doesn't affect anybody other than the parties involved, a summary judgement can be a useful and thrifty way of getting some resolution.
But in a socially consequential matter like this one, I think the system owes the surrounding community more than a quick end to the dispute via summary judgement. There is so much at stake here that I believe every argument, pro and con, should be aired out and broadcast to all of us for the consideration that's due from the court of public opinion. We folks who will be affected forever by the outcome of this case, even as it will probably go to a higher court on appeal, should be aware, every step of the way, of all the elements of all the contentions and rebuttals made by each side. There's much drama here and it needs to be played out. High impact trials like this merit more than summary consideration by the court.
When the Brown family sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education in 1951, contending they were damaged by its segregated system, the case was initially tried in a Kansas federal district court. Testimony about psychological stigmatization was publicly aired, humanizing the damaging aftermath that wounded affected children. Though the court ultimately held for the Board of Education and its segregationist policies, the case went forward to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the ruling was reversed, ending public school segregation in this country forever. But at the local level, Kansans got a first-hand understanding of the matter in a way that wouldn't have occurred had a summary judgement taken place before the trial. I think we South Dakotans would get a firmer grasp of the full range of issues connected to same-sex marriage if we could see and hear our neighbors make their cases against our state's controlling authorities.
I have no doubt that Judge Schreier's legal intellect and judicial temperament are of the highest caliber and that her judgement would stand the toughest scrutiny by her peers. But in this case, cutting short the proceedings with an abruptly arbitrary judgement before the general public gets to hear the arguments presented in court is doing a disservice to the people who need to understand this case and consider it for themselves.