On Wednesday the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Court struck down a key provision of the law that has been used to deny a whole host of federal benefits to married same sex couples, declaring it unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment and the equal protection clause. For too long, my office has been unable to help many grieving spouses, who needed but could not get Social Security or health survivor benefits, just because the federal government didn't legally recognize their marriage. More than 1,000 federal benefits have been denied to gay couples, ranging from the ability to file joint tax returns to the comfort of knowing one can be buried with his or her spouse if they are laid to rest in a veterans' cemetery. Our country has come so far in a relatively short period of time on this issue and I am so proud to represent the state that led the way.
The Supreme Court also declined to overturn a California court's decision that ended the ban on same sex marriage in that state. This too is an important step toward equality for all. We have made great progress on marriage equality but the work is not yet done. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same sex marriage. I hope many more states will follow Massachusetts' lead and give all marriages the dignity that they deserve.
Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court's ruling this week on Shelby County v. Holder was not good news. It has seriously weakened the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which was first passed in 1965 to combat racial discrimination in voting. In 2006, Congress extended this landmark legislation for an additional 25 years.
The Supreme Court's ruling invalidated the mechanism that identifies which jurisdictions are subject to "preclearance", federal approval of voting procedures. This section was found unconstitutional by the Court, on the grounds that it relied on outdated data. The Court called on Congress to update the coverage formula that determines when preclearance is necessary. I am deeply disappointed with this Supreme Court decision, which essentially renders the VRA ineffective. The Court's actions will make it easier for states to implement laws that could lead to voter suppression, such as laws requiring a valid id to vote. I will do all I can in Congress to update the Voting Rights Act which has done so much to enfranchise citizens of color.
This week the House considered H.R. 1613: Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreements Authorization Act. Transboundary agreements are required when oil and gas exploration takes place in waters that are claimed by two countries. H.R. 1613 approves an agreement already negotiated between the United States and Mexico, and establishes a framework for future agreements. This aspect of H.R. 1613 is non-controversial. However, the legislation also rolls back a requirement from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law that oil companies disclose payments they make to foreign governments for certain resources such as oil. There is no good reason to waive these transparency requirements and they should stay in place. I voted NO.
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The House also considered H.R. 2231: The Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. This legislation requires the Interior Department to open 50% of available areas in the Outer Continental Shelf to drilling, including areas off the coasts of Alaska and California, and off the East Coast. H.R. 2231 also weakens National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of drilling projects by requiring the sale of leases without considering the potential impact of each one.
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What's Up Next
A District Work period has been scheduled for next week. Votes will occur on Monday July 8th.
Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services
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