Before I go, I wanted to leave you with a few thoughts about these legal issues that go beyond the issue of DOMA and same-sex marriage.
As you may have gleaned, it turns out that marriage isn’t the only area where federal law draws upon or relies upon a pre-existing concept under state law. As has been mentioned in passing in my posts and in the comments, bankruptcy and tax law frequently draw upon state property law. (Before you tax and bankruptcy experts complain, yes, I know that federal law doesn’t always follow exactly what the state does, but in many cases the variations in state law are incorporated.) That’s also true in criminal law (where prior state convictions trigger increased punishments for later federal crimes), in federal enclaves (where the Assimilative Crimes Act incorporates the criminal law of the surrounding state), and much more. Henry Hart called this kind of federal law “interstitial.”
In some of areas of “interstitial” law, the choice of law problems are pretty well worked out. It’s pretty obvious to everybody that your prior state convictions are determined by the state where you were convicted, and so on. But in others, the choice-of-law problem is subject to the same kinds of ambiguities as marital law is, so my article provides some insight for resolving those areas too. (For example, my article shows why the Klaxon rule, which some courts have used, shouldn’t be extended to those areas.)
I think I have another normative point, too. Sometimes when interstitial law is invoked in a particular context, it strikes people as weird or counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t the scope of a federal right or the meaning of a federal law be uniform? I hope that our exploration of interstitial law convinces you that the answer is “not necessarily.” In […]