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Within days of each other, two federal district courts in North Carolina have ruled on issues related to the state's ban on same-sex marriage. On October 10, Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said that, per the Fourth Circuit's opinion in Bostic v. Schaefer, the matter was settled as far as he was concerned. The state law was plainly unconstitutional:

The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threating [sic] to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.

One day after the U.S. Supreme Court neutered Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- i.e., one day after the preclearance requirement for changes to voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression efforts was nullified by that decision -- North Carolina passed House Bill 589.

The bill made a number of significant changes to the way North Carolina voter registration and elections are handled, including eliminating same-day voter registration, the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct, the reduction of early voting days, and a voter ID requirement, among others. Multiple lawsuits challenging the bill came just as quickly, but while there seems to be significant questions about the legality of the bill, which rolls back a number of voting procedures originally instituted to increase minority voting, the district court declined to block the changes for this November's election.

Today, after an expedited appeal, the Fourth Circuit released its decision in the case, affirming in part, and reversing in part, the district court's denial of an injunction.

Happy Friday! We know, you're not in the mood to read dense case law right now -- you want something lighter. In fact, you're reading this blog for just that purpose.

We've got your back. Here are three quick, local updates from Fourth Circuit cases, including oral arguments in a prison contraband smuggling sentence appeal, an interesting note on amici in the Supreme Court's UPS pregnancy discrimination case (originally out of the Fourth Circuit), and a federal judge in West Virginia's decision to stay out of the gay marriage controversy until the Supreme Court steps in.

Set your clocks folks: An appeal of a denied injunction that would block all or most of North Carolina's new voting laws, including voter ID provisions and restricted early voting times, is set for September 25, less than two weeks from now, reports NC Policy Watch.

The appeal comes from a district court judge's denial of the plaintiffs' request to block House Bill 589 (the "monster voting bill"). Judge Thomas D. Schroeder, in a 125-page decision, held that the plaintiffs were unable to show a substantial likelihood of success and irreparable harm, largely because fewer people vote in mid-term elections.

Crucially, Judge Schroeder didn't dismiss the case altogether, which means the challenge can go forward regardless of the Fourth Circuit's ruling -- this dispute only applies to blocking the laws from applying to this year's November election.

There may not be another court to turn to for relief, but two-time Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen still won't back down in a fight to force him to turn over his confidential sources for his 2006 book, "State of War," which contained confidential CIA secrets regarding Iran's nuclear program.

The Fourth Circuit ruled against Risen last year, holding that Branzburg v. Hayes controlled and that there was no reporter's privilege that would keep a reporter off the stand during grand jury proceedings. It was a terrible outcome for press freedom, but as we noted before, it was a precedent required by precedent: The Supreme Court stated in Branzburg it could not "seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects a newsman's agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof ..."

Only the Supreme Court could have changed that precedent, and it declined to take the case earlier this year. Legally, the battle ended there, but Risen, and his supporters, are still not backing down.

The big news of the week in the Mid-Atlantic region is that the Fourth Circuit has declined to issue a stay pending appeal in Bostic, the same-sex marriage case out of Virginia. For those who were comatose over the past few weeks, a three-judge panel ruled against the state's ban on gay marriages.

The county clerks who are defending the law have filed an appeal with the Supreme Court and want the panel's decision put on hold pending that appeal. Even Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who declined to defend the law, asked for a stay, as even a brief period of legalized gay marriage, as we saw in Utah, leads to confusion regarding the status of those marriages and the extension of benefits to same-sex spouses.

The Bostic same-sex marriage decision was huge, and not just for Virginians. All across the Fourth Circuit, cases were on hold pending the resolution of that case. And now, with a decision in, states are reacting differently, with some promising to fight on and others declining to fight what they see as a losing battle.

And even in Virginia itself, the decision isn't completely final. Local county clerks, who are defending the state's ban, are pressing forward with their defense of the ban, adding another gay marriage case to the U.S. Supreme Court's cert. pool.

Gay marriage is now 24-0, undefeated in courts since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Windsor barely more than a year ago. The Fourth Circuit, applying strict scrutiny, held today that none of Virginia's arguments could justify discriminatory treatment of same-sex couples.

"We recognize that same-sex marriage makes some people deeply uncomfortable. However, inertia and apprehension are not legitimate bases for denying same-sex couples due process and equal protection of the laws," Judge Henry Floyd wrote for the majority of the Fourth Circuit panel in Bostic v. Schaefer.

"The choice of whether and whom to marry is an intensely personal decision that alters the course of an individual's life. Denying same-sex couples this choice prohibits them from participating fully in our society, which is precisely the type of segregation that the Fourteenth Amendment cannot countenance."

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It's been less than a month since the Fourth Circuit heard oral arguments in Bostic, the gay marriage appeal, and the panel's decision can't come fast enough. Of course, even once that arrives, there will inevitably be an en banc petition, and then, perhaps an appeal to the Supreme Court, if one of the other circuit courts' cases doesn't arrive first.

The importance of the decision can't be understated -- the Fourth Circuit panel, and perhaps an en banc panel, will determine the fate of marriage throughout Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North and South Carolina. (Indeed, the district courts in West Virginia, and in North Carolina, put those cases on hold pending the Bostic decision.)

With so much at stake, you might be curious: who's deciding the case?

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Though the Tenth Circuit got there first, yesterday's Fourth Circuit oral arguments in Virginia's gay marriage ban appeal were highly anticipated. The Tenth is handing appeals from Utah and Oklahoma, while the Fourth Circuit is debating Virginia's ban. If a split emerges between these circuits, or the other circuits with same-sex marriage appeals, a Supreme Court showdown could be (okay, almost certainly is) on the horizon.

How did the arguments go? If the judges' comments were any indication, the court is like the rest of this country: confused and conflicted.