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Sunday, July 25, 2010

JURIST - Paper Chase: Federal judge blocks Arizona law denying benefits to domestic partners

JURIST - Paper Chase: Federal judge blocks Arizona law denying benefits to domestic partners

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Federal judge blocks Arizona law denying benefits to domestic partners
Erin Bock at 5:30 PM ET

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[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] on Friday granted a preliminary injunction [opinion text] against an amendment to an Arizona law [ARS § 38-651 text] regarding health benefits for the families of state employees. The amendment, added as subsection O, would remove language from the law allowing interdependent domestic partners to receive health benefits by changing the definition of "dependent" to include only married couples and their children, effective October 1, 2010. The state employees argue that the amendment violates their rights to equal protection and substantive due process and that the amendment has no rational relationship to a legitimate state interest. In his order, Judge John Sedwick granted the preliminary injunction, finding that the plaintiffs met their burden of showing that their case would be likely to succeed on the merits and that they would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction. He also found the state's arguments that the amendment served the state interest of cost savings and administrative efficiency to be "speculative at best and discriminatory at worst." Lambda Legal [official website], the organization representing the state workers, praised the judge's decision [press release]:
This injunction removes the sword that's been hanging over the heads of hundreds of state workers and their families. We're pleased Judge Sedwick has recognized that this is a matter of equal pay for equal work, and that eliminating benefits for Arizona's gay and lesbian state employees would hurt real families.
The order also denied the state's motion to dismiss the workers' equal protection claim and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's claim of immunity. The order granted the state's motion to dismiss the workers' substantive due process claim. The injunction is set to go into effect within 10 days.

Arizona is also facing a federal lawsuit regarding its controversial new immigration law. The US Department of Justice [official website] filed suit earlier this month [JURIST report] arguing that the law violates the Supremacy Clause [text] of the US Constitution. The law criminalizes illegal immigration and allows police officers to question individuals based on "reasonable suspicion" that they are in the country illegally. The law is already being contested in a class-action lawsuit [JURIST report] led by the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website]. Brewer signed the legislation into law in April and the law is set to go into effect on July 29.