9th Circuit Jurists in Standoff with Fed Agency

November 23, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Two federal appellate judges are poised nose to nose with the federal government’s personnel agency over the issue of extending benefits to spouses of court and court-supervised employees.

A San Francisco Chronicle news account said Circuit Judges Alex Kozinski and Stephen Reinhardt of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued strongly worded orders directing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to grant benefits to same-sex spouses in two separate cases.

Kozinski’s order concerned 9th Circuit Staff Attorney Karen Golinski, while Reinhardt focused on lawyer Brad Levenson of the federal public defender’s office in Los Angeles, according to the newspaper.

Kozinski, chief judge of the San Francisco-based appellate court, ordered OPM to stop fighting efforts to cover Amy Cunninghis, Golinski’s wife, and to pay Golinski the cost of buying insurance since Golinski first applied for coverage in September 2008. In his order, Reinhardt told the federal public defender’s office in Los Angeles to pay Levenson for the cost of insurance coverage for his husband.

OPM intervened in both the Golinski and Levenson cases in February and invoked the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that bars federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples.

The dispute arises in an unusual context: a grievance from an employee of the federal judiciary, who has no right to sue over employment discrimination and instead must seek an administrative hearing before an appeals court judge, the newspaper account indicated.

The Kozinski order is available here. The order regarding Levenson is available here.