Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

Hats off to local county clerks

If I were wearing a hat at this moment, I’d tip it to two Texas county clerks: Randall County’s Renee Calhoun and Potter County’s Julie Smith.

All they did was agree to adhere to their oath of office and will issue marriage licenses to gay couples who seek them.

This is in accordance with a Supreme Court decision this past week that legalized gay marriage across the nation. It also resists the notion that they could refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton authorized them to do.

Given the extreme partisan divide across the land, it’s fair to make this point: Both women, Calhoun and Smith, are Republican county clerks. The state AG also is a Republican. They are defying the state’s attorney general, who contends that clerks could object if they had religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The two county clerks plan to issue the licenses as soon as they get some paperwork matters straightened out.

Good for them.

Paxton’s decision to allow the clerks to refuse issuing the licenses has met with mixed response from county clerks across the state.

The attorney general’s approach to this matter is wrong-headed, as it seeks to allow these elected officials to disavow the oath of office they took, which is to follow the laws of the nation and the state.

The Supreme Court has determined — as the final arbiter of what is constitutional and what is not — that state bans on same-sex marriage violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, gay marriage is now legal.

Judge will marry gays, if duty calls

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner is on record already on an issue that well could generate a good bit of controversy.

Back when she was running for the office to which she was elected, Tanner — along with her four Republican primary opponents — took part in a candidate forum sponsored by Panhandle PBS. I was privileged to be one of the journalists questioning the candidates.

One of the panelists asked all the candidates a most probing question: Given that Texas law gives county judges the authority to perform marriage ceremonies, would you — as county judge — be willing to perform a ceremony uniting a same-sex couple in matrimony?

Some of the candidates hemmed and hawed. One of them said “no,” he wouldn’t do it.

Tanner’s response? She was unequivocal. If the courts rule that gay marriage is legal in Texas, then she would follow the law. She would marry anyone with a valid marriage license. That would be her responsibility as county judge and she would perform it.

Her answer was straightforward as it could have been. It didn’t harm her at the polls, as she won the GOP primary outright and went on to be elected county judge in November 2014.

As of this morning, the issue hasn’t yet presented itself to Judge Tanner. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses if they have a religious objection to the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized gay marriage.

There’s been no word that I’ve heard about whether Potter County Clerk Julie Smith is going to follow the law or ignore it, per Paxton’s decision.

Tanner’s take on the issue is clear. What’s cloudy and muddled is whether another countywide elected official, Smith, is going to follow the law.

Stay tuned. This could get dicey.

It’s official: Texas AG says clerks can flout the law

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has just told county clerks they don’t have to uphold the sacred oath to which they swore when they took office.

I don’t know where to begin.


Paxton issued a statement today that said county clerks do not have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they have religious objections. He has challenged the legal opinion of a majority of the nine men and women who sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 this past week that gay marriage is now legal in the United States of America.

Texas county clerks, according to Paxton, are now free to flout federal law.

“Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes,” Paxton said in a statement. “While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.”

Yes, they do “find protection” in the law. But there’s another factor that Paxton and others who oppose the court ruling are giving short shrift. It is that county clerks — as well as state attorneys general, I should add — take an oath to follow federal and state law. They swear to God that they’ll do that.

Is that oath now rendered moot? Why bother, then, to swear to uphold the Constitution?


How about changing the oath of office?

IN THE NAME AND BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE OF TEXAS, I, John Q. Public Servant, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of county clerk of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.

That, right there, is the oath of office county clerks must take before they can perform their duties on behalf of the people they serve in their respective counties.

In Texas, all 254 counties are governed by state statute, which means the state sets the laws by which county residents — and their elected officials — must abide.

I found it on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. It’s kind of a generic oath that county officials must take. Granted, some county officials take longer oaths, but it must include this particular pledge.

Just as an aside, I attended the swearing in on Jan. 1 of newly elected Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner and the oath she took was tantamount to the “War and Peace” version of the mandatory oath given to county officials.

I mention this oath in light of what Republican presidential candidate — and Texas’s junior U.S. senator — Ted Cruz said about how county clerks “absolutely” should be given the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Texas. He said the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage amounts to a declaration of war on religious liberty.

As I look at this oath, I don’t see any reference to the faith of the person taking it. I see nothing in there that enables the elected official to not follow all “the laws of the United States and of this State.”

I read the oath as requiring that those who take it must adhere to it — to the letter.

A majority of the justices on the Supreme Court has declared that gay marriage is now legal everywhere, in each of the 50 states. That includes Texas.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another GOP presidential candidate, said that we could save a ton of money if we just got rid of the court. I don’t know how serious he was about that suggestion.

Sen. Cruz, though, seems to be dead serious in encouraging county clerks to violate their sacred oath, which does end with “so help me God.”

Hey, let’s just change the oath and have county clerks affirm that they’ll uphold only those laws that do not trample on their religious beliefs.


Court switches roles and angers everyone

Think about this for a moment.

Before this past week, political liberals across the United States were angry with the Supreme Court, calling it a body comprising conservative “judicial activists.”

They cite the Citizens United ruling of 2010 in which the court ruled that unlimited amount of money can pour into political campaigns, thus giving the very rich an even more powerful voice in electing public officials.

We’ve witnessed a 180-degree turn.

Conservatives now are chastising the “liberal” court — even though its ideological balance is the same as it was in the Citizens United ruling. Conservatives say the court is “too activist” because it upheld the Affordable Care Act and then ruled that the Constitution guarantees gay people the right to marry.

Liberals dislike the high court. So do conservatives.

Journalists are fond of saying that if “Both sides are mad, then I must doing something right.”

Does the same truism apply to judges?


Cruz to county clerks: Sure, go ahead, break the law

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is running hard for president of the United States and he’s now taking every opportunity to have his voice heard.

Let’s take the recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that legalizes gay marriage across the nation.

What’s the junior Republican Texas senator’s take on it: It ought to be OK for county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if it violates their religious beliefs.

Let’s hold on here, young man.


County clerks in Texas take an oath to uphold the law. It doesn’t offer any qualifiers, that they can opt out of fulfilling that oath if their religious faith stands in the way.

Texas county clerks do have an option if they simply cannot authorize a marriage license to a gay couple. They can resign their public office. Indeed, when New Mexico legalized gay marriage this past year, the Roosevelt County clerk did exactly that; she quit rather than do something with which her religious faith did not believe.

“Ours is a country that was built by men and women fleeing religious oppression,” Cruz said in an interview with The Texas Tribune, “and you look at the foundation of this country — it was to seek out a new land where anyone of us could worship the Lord God Almighty with all of our hearts, minds and souls, without government getting in the way.”

Without government getting in the way? My goodness, senator. We all are able to do all those things. We can go to church, to synagogue, to the mosque — anywhere we wish — and pray to whichever deity in which we believe. The Supreme Court decision handed down this week say not a single word about any of that.

It merely affirms that the 14th Amendment guarantees all U.S. citizens the right to “equal protection” under the law. Thus, they are entitled to marry whomever they wish.

I have no clue what the state’s county clerks are going to do, which of them will adhere to the law and which of them will declare that they just cannot in good conscience issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Those who refuse will be breaking the law they took an oath to uphold.

It’s interesting to me that Sen. Cruz keeps tossing the word “lawless” around to describe the Supreme Court, the Obama administration — and virtually anyone who disagrees with his world view.

Yet, he’s seeking a way for county clerks to evade the law. That’s my definition of “lawlessness.”


Justices vent their anger, show their fangs

What? Do you mean to say that the U.S. Supreme Court justices are human beings, with actual tempers?

I guess so, if the story attached to this post is any indicator.


The two huge rulings this week — affirming the Affordable Care Act and legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states — reportedly has revealed a growing schism between the two wings of the court.

Conservative justices don’t like the liberal tilt the court showed in the two rulings.

And at least one of them, Justice Antonin Scalia, said as much in his dissenting opinions.

Scalia and fellow Justice Samuel Alito appear to be angriest at Justice Anthony Kennedy, who joined the liberal justices on both rulings. Kennedy was picked for the court by a conservative president, Ronald Reagan, as was Scalia; Alito was picked by President George W. Bush.

I happen to believe that Scalia and Alito need to settle down. It seems a stretch for me to believe that a high court headed by yet another Bush selection, Chief Justice John Roberts, is going to become a bastion of liberal constitutional interpretation.

OK, so the liberals won two gigantic victories. Obamacare stands and gay marriage is now legal.

There will be plenty of other fights along the way.

What’s more, the fact that Scalia wrote such scathing dissents shouldn’t surprise anyone. He’s known for using colorful language and is fearless in stating his case.

As for the court’s fifth conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, well … he’s always silent during oral arguments before the court. The day Justice Thomas erupts in a fit of rage might be cause for concern.

The court’s logic on gay marriage makes sense

I’ve never claimed to be — nor will I ever make such a claim to be — the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

At times I can be slow on the uptake. I occasionally lack intuition.

But the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage makes crystal clear sense to me. It’s about the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. That is it — as near as I can tell.

Thus, the hysteria being expressed by Texas Republican leaders — along with other GOP honchos across this great country — is boggling my mind.


Of all the things I’ve heard from the opponents of the ruling, the most hysterical response belongs — and this is zero surprise to many of us — Sen. Ted Cruz, one of a thundering herd of candidates running for the GOP nomination in 2016.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the first candidate for the GOP nomination for president, said the gay marriage ruling puts religious liberty ‘front and center in the target of the federal government.’ He called it the ‘very definition of lawlessness. It is naked and unadulterated judicial activism.'”

Sheesh. Judicial activism? I wonder how he ranks the Citizens United ruling of 2010, which declared that corporations and rich fat cats could give unlimited amounts of campaign money, tilting the political playing field to the distinct advantage of those with the most money. Oh, but that’s another story.

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says this, in part: “… nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

You know what that means to me? It means that states cannot deny someone the ability to marry whomever they love. It means to me that the U.S. Constitution, the one that all politicians swear to “protect and defend” is the law of the land. It means that all citizens shall not be denied “equal protection of the laws.”

Can it be any clearer than that?

The Supreme Court upheld the U.S. Constitution in a tightly worded majority opinion. It said that states cannot bar people from marrying someone if that someone happens to be of the same gender.

Judicial activism?

If I can understand what the court said and meant, why can’t The Cruz Missile? He’s the one with the Harvard law degree.

Kennedy channels Blackmun and makes history

It’s always risky to put too fine a point on some historical events, but today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states tells me that the court has issued a ruling that is going to change the nation’s landscape … forever.

We can give credit — although some will assess blame — on one justice. That would be Anthony Kennedy, a normally conservative justice who sided with the liberals on the court and wrote the 5-4 majority opinion legalizing gay marriage.

Game, set and match? Not by a long shot.

Kennedy’s role, though, does have an interesting parallel with another justice from another time — with whom he served for five years on the same Supreme Court.

Harry Blackmun was selected to the court in 1971 by a conservative president, Richard Nixon; Kennedy joined the court in 1988 when another conservative president, Ronald Reagan, nominated him.

Blackmun eventually would veer far from where President Nixon thought he’d travel as he served on the highest court in the land. Blackmun became one of the court’s more liberal members.

In January 1973, he authored a landmark ruling that made abortion legal in the United States. Roe v. Wade was a case out of Texas in which the court overturned a Texas law that made getting an abortion a felony offense. Blackmun’s opinion stated that women essentially were entitled to control their own reproductive capacity. The 7-2 ruling set the stage for a debate that hasn’t let up over the course of the past 42 years, but it was a huge decision.

The man on the hot seat now is Kennedy, who remains a conservative jurist. But on this issue, gay marriage, he has decided — along with the court’s liberal wing — that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, with its equal protection clause, trumps states’ reluctance to allow gay couples to marry.

I doubt strongly we’re going to see Justice Kennedy become a flaming liberal in the wake of this ruling. He just happens to be right — and courageous — in making this decision.

Just as Roe v. Wade changed the landscape in early 1973, today’s ruling on gay marriage sets the stage for another gigantic sea change across the nation.

I wish I was a fly on Justice Kennedy’s wall when he talked this over with his court colleagues and his staff as he pondered how he would write this Earth-shattering opinion. Something tells me he heard the late Justice Blackmun’s voice.


14th Amendment means what it says

Well, it’s been an Earth-shaking couple of days at the Supreme Court of the United States, don’t you think?

First, the court upholds the Affordable Care Act, guaranteeing health insurance for all Americans.

Then today comes a ruling that makes gay marriage legal in every state in the Union.


Today’s ruling is going to cause considerable apoplexy among political conservatives, some of whom now are saying the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the dissenters in today’s ruling, said the nation is now being governed by a majority of justices.

Let’s hold on here.

The ruling tosses out statewide bans on gay marriage on the basis of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the document we use to establish a governing framework for the entire nation.

States’ rights? I believe the federal Constitution trumps those rights. The equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment means what it says, that all citizens are guaranteed the right to “equal protection under the law,” which means that if gay citizens want to marry someone of the same gender, they are entitled under the law to do exactly that.

Is the battle over? Not even close.

It’s going to shift to the issue of religious liberty, where individuals will argue that their faith and their religious opposition to same-sex marriage also is guaranteed under the First Amendment. Some Republican candidates for president are calling for a constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage illegal; good luck with that, as the 14th Amendment stands as the protector of all Americans’ rights to equal treatment under the law.

The court has done what it had to do. It has affirmed what the U.S. Constitution declares in guaranteeing every American the right to marry who they love — no matter what.