In a column for Bloomberg View, republished at the Chicago Tribune, Noah Feldman explains the reasoning behind the ruling by Puerto Rico Federal District Judge Juan Perez-Gimenez, who upheld the same-sex marriage ban in the territory.
The ruling of the federal district judge, Juan Pérez-Giménez, is an artifact in its own right. For purposes of the federal judicial system, Puerto Rico is treated as part of the U.S. That’s why Pérez-Giménez is in office there as an ordinary Article III federal judge, nominated by Jimmy Carter and confirmed by the Senate.
Ordinarily, federal judges follow the Supreme Court’s precedents automatically. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and the court’s interpretations of it are binding on the lower courts.
Puerto Rico is different — not because lower courts don’t have to listen to the Supreme Court, but because according to the justices, the Constitution doesn’t apply there with full force.
The ruling itself is indeed likely to be reversed, and is actually being ignored by local authorities. Nevertheless it brings light to an issue that could be a topic of discussion in the Supreme Court, given the recent Sanchez Valle case, on which there is no ruling yet.