Fit of reactionary pique leads to grant of mandamus

In re Conde Vidal, No. 16-1313 (1st Cir. Apr. 7, 2016).

In 2014, a reactionary district court judge dismissed the claims of plaintiffs challenging Puerto Rico’s ban on same-sex marriage. After Obergefell, the First Circuit vacated that dismissal and remanded, noting that it agreed with the parties that the ban was unconstitutional. 

Then, after the parties jointly moved to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, the same district court judge refused. He issued a self-indulgent 10-page order that began by quoting a nineteenth-century Supreme Court opinion extolling “the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony.” The order asserted that the Fourteenth Amendment didn’t fully apply in Puerto Rico, so Obergefell didn’t control. 

This order wasn’t immediately appealable, since the district court had declined to enter a final judgment. So, instead of appealing, the plaintiffs (joined ultimately by Puerto Rico itself) sought a writ of mandamus from the First Circuit. The First Circuit now grants the writ: “The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin.” Most importantly, it flouted the First Circuit’s mandate, which had told the district court that Puerto Rico’s ban was unconstitutional. So the district court’s ruling is overturned and the case is remanded with directions to assign the case to a different, and presumably less willful, judge.