Review: A New Look Back at IA Court’s Controversial ‘Varnum’ Ruling

It’s not hard in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision this year to forget all about the drama and significance of a pioneering ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2009 in Varnum v. Brien. But a new book about the case offers an engaging and timely history lesson, according to a review in The Des Moines Register.

In Varnum, the Iowa high court became the first in the nation to decide unanimously in support of marriage equality, when it ruled that a state ban on marriages for same-sex couples violated the Iowa Constitution’s equal protection clause. But the story didn’t end there. Iowa had retention (up-or-down) elections for three of the justices the next year. After an influx of special interest spending, all three were unseated in an historic election.

While the justices had “prioritized the Constitution over their careers,” they did not know in advance that “they would become lightning rods in a national backlash against equal rights,” reviewer Michael C. Simpson writes. Not only did they lose their jobs, he adds, “Some of the justices received death threats; their children were bullied at school.” (more…)

Tennessee Judge Lambastes ‘Judi-idiocracy’ From Supreme Court

Chancellor Atherton
Chancellor Atherton

Public officials, including an elected Tennessee judge, are in the news over their decisions about applying (or not) the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that found a right to marriage for same-sex couples.

Hamilton County, Tennessee Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton has denied a heterosexual couple’s divorce petition with an unusual legal analysis “that has made waves around the world,” according to The Washington Post. He wrote that the effect of the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling “is to preempt state courts from addressing marriage/divorce litigation altogether.” He laced sarcasm and criticism together in one spicy sentence:

“Although this Court has some vague familiarity with the governmental theories of democracy, republicanism, socialism, communism, fascism, theocracy, and even despotism, implementation of this apparently new ‘super-federal-judicial’ form of benign and benevolent government, termed ‘krytocracy’ by some and ‘judi-idiocracy’ by others, with its iron fist and limp wrist, represents quite a challenge for a state level trial court.”


Defiant Kentucky Clerk Ordered to Jail

BULLETIN: “Clerk Who Blocked Gay Weddings Is Ordered to Jail,” the New York Times reported on Thursday afternoon. 

A clerk of courts in Rowan County, Ky. who refused, based on her religious beliefs, to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples was to appear before a federal judge on Thursday. Kim Davis, the clerk, has support from some conservative groups.

That support includes The Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Roy Moore, who is now Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. A press release by the group praised Davis, according to news reports by On Top Magazine and WSFA.

A New York Times article detailed legal support for Davis and several other public officials by Liberty Counsel, a legal nonprofit group, and it mentioned praise for Liberty Counsel from a conservative leader who was sharply critical of the courts. (more…)

Probate Judge Defends Chief Justice Moore, Urges Defiant Vote

alabama-flag-descriptionAn Alabama probate judge is urging the state’s highest court to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality ruling and for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has recused himself, to cast a vote.

Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams also staunchly defended Moore against an ethics complaint recently lodged by the Southern Poverty Law Center (see Gavel Grab for background), saying the complaint appeared aimed at influencing the Alabama justices and that it should not have been made public, according to an article.

Moore has argued publicly against marriage for same-sex couples and in February, he ordered Alabama probate judges to ignore a federal court ruling that had declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He has attracted widespread national media attention for his outspoken views. (more…)

Commentary: ‘Dangerous’ to Seek Impeachment of Justices

US Supreme CourtTo seek the impeachment of five U.S. Supreme Court justices over the court’s recent landmark ruling on marriage rights for same-sex couples would “set a dangerous precedent,” Denis Montenier writes in a Waterloo-Cedar Falls (Ia.) Courier op-ed.

Montenier responds to an earlier commentary that voiced disagreement with the court’s ruling and called for impeaching the justices in the 5-4 majority. He writes:

“To initiate impeachment proceedings against the five justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage would not only set a dangerous precedent but would be most divisive. It would only succeed in making the American people more cynical and distrustful. While impeachment might get through the Republican-controlled House, it would be virtually impossible for the Senate to garner the two-thirds majority required for conviction, making the attempt a colossal waste of taxpayer time and money.”

On LA Top Bench, Disagreement Voiced With U.S. Supreme Court

louisiana-quarterWhen the Louisiana Supreme Court formally ended this week the state’s appeal of a lower-court decision striking down a ban on marriage for same-sex couples, some justices also denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling affirming a right to such marriage.

Justice Jeanette Theriot Knoll wrote that she was “constrained to follow the rule of law,” while calling the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling “an utter travesty as is my constrained adherence to their ‘law of the land’ enacted not by the will of the American people but by five judicial activists.” And Justice Jeff Hughes, who dissented, wrote, “The most troubling prospect of same-sex marriage is the adoption by same-sex partners of a young child of the same sex.”

Matt Patterson of Equality Louisiana questioned whether the justices’ opinions could compromise cases later. “The implication of bias here is just staggering,” he said, according to The (Baton Rouge) Advocate. Other coverage included articles from Slate and The Times-Picayune.

TX Legislator Wants Impeachment of 5 U.S. Supreme Court Justices

Rep. Bell
Rep. Bell

Republican Texas state Rep. Cecil Bell, a foe of the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples, is calling on Congress to begin impeachment of five Supreme Court justices and to consider court-stripping legislation. It’s another ripple in the fallout over recent blockbuster decisions by the high court, including one that declared a Constitutional right to marriage for same-sex couples.

Bell’s “Pact for Constitutional Restoration of State Sovereignty” includes the following planks:

“United States House of Representatives Members must act to promptly begin the constitutional process of impeaching Supreme Court Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor and Kagan for the bad behavior shown in acting without constitutional authority to strike down the sovereign power of the separate states and of the people of the separate states. The United States Senate must act to complete the process of impeachment.”

“US Representatives and Senators must act immediately to pass legislation to strip the ability of the United States federal judiciary to hear classes of claims where the United States federal judiciary lacks enumerated constitutional authority, thereby making certain legislative and executive actions unreviewable by the federal judiciary, those claims reserved to be reviewable by state courts.”


From Foes to Friends: Red Wing and Vander Plaats

Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats, President and Chief Executive Director of The Family Leader and Donna Red Wing, Executive Director of One Iowa have buried the hatchet, reports  The Washington Post.

Red Wing and Vander Plaats found themselves on opposite sides of a divisive debate over the courts and marriage equality when the latter “led a successful campaign to remove three state judges responsible for the 2009 Iowa gay marriage ruling,” according to the Post.  Red Wing, who is an advocate for LGBT rights, had called him “bigoted” and “cruel,” while he had called her marriage “unnatural.”

But following the death of a good friend, Red Wing promised to “try to honor that friend by making peace with her biggest nemesis. So she asked Vander Plaats to coffee,” noted the Post. “They agreed to coffee again. Then again.”

After SCOTUS’s same sex marriage decision, the Post reports, the two were “crossing paths between dueling interviews at a local TV station studio, they locked eyes. And then they hugged.” They also appeared together at a lunch organized by a local civil group, where they joked together and talked to the audience about trying to understand each other’s different views.

“I actually like Bob Vander Plaats,” Red Wing said at the lunch. “I love Donna,” Vander Plaats responded.


U.S. Judge Issues Order on Marriage Licenses in Alabama

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Mobile, Al. ordered on Wednesday that probate judges who issue marriage licenses must issue them for all couples, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.

Judge Granade had ruled earlier (see Gavel Grab) that same-sex couples had a right to wed in the state, but she held off implementing the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court took a stand. It did so last week, declaring a constitutional right for same-sex couples to wed.

Meanwhile, according to The Advocate and also Birmingham Business Journal, a petition at the website for Chief Justice Moore’s impeachment has received more than 16,000 signatures. The petition contends the jurist should be removed “for his inability to perform his duties with impartiality.” The Advocate’s article was headlined, “He Went There: Antigay Judge Roy Moore Compares Marriage Equality to Holocaust.”

To learn about Chief Justice Moore’s opinions about same-sex marriage, read Gavel Grab.


Critics Condemn ‘Imperial Court,’ Suggest Court-Stripping Amendment

Everyone knew that when the Supreme Court ruled on marriage equality, reaction would be divided, perhaps fiercely so. That was indeed the case when political leaders, candidates, and others began responding to the high court’s ruling on Friday that legalizes marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab).

GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee pledged not to “acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” according to The Hill. “The Supreme Court has spoken with a very divided voice on something only the Supreme Being can do — redefine marriage,” he said. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

Another Republican candidate, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, warned that the 5-4 court  decision will “pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.” He added, “The Supreme Court decision today conveniently and not surprisingly follows public opinion polls, and tramples on states’ rights that were once protected by the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.” (more…)