Tag Archives: U.S. Supreme Court

Will these justices stay away from SOTU?


Do you ever hear something from someone and think, “Damn! I wish I’d have thought of that”?

That happened to me today.

One of my Facebook pals wondered out loud if the only mystery surrounding President Obama’s upcoming State of the Union speech would be whether the three most conservative members of the Supreme Court would stay away, as they have done in recent years.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia all have been absent during Obama’s recent speeches before a joint session of Congress.

I’ve long wondered — as have others –whether it is because they detest the president’s politics so much that they’d rather do something else than sit in front of him while he makes policy statement with which they disagree?

Look, gentlemen, this is the last one of these speeches Barack Obama will give as president of the United States. Surely you can find the time — not to mention the courtesy — to attend this speech along with the rest of your colleagues. Chief Justice John Roberts usually attends, and he’s in the conservative camp right along with the three no-show justices.

It might have been a single event that ticked them off. That would be the time that Obama scolded the court for its Citizens United ruling that took the limits off of corporations and enabled them to give unlimited amounts of money to political candidates. Justice Alito was seen mouthing the words “not true” when the president made his critical comments.

That was then. If the scolding is the reason, well, get over it, will you?

The president is entering his final full year in office. The Joint Chiefs of Staff will be there. Most of the Cabinet will be there; custom calls for one of them to stay away in case something catastrophic happens at the nation’s Capitol Building.

I hope all nine justices see fit to make an appearance. They don’t have to applaud. Just be there.


Do your job, Mme. Clerk … or quit!

Old fashionet American Constitution with USA  Flag.

Dear Ms. Davis,

You’ve made a name for yourself: Kim Davis, staunch opponent of gay marriage.

You served a few days in jail because a federal judge held you in contempt of court because you failed to do the job you swore you’d do. Part of your job is to issue marriage licenses to those who request them. The law says you aren’t supposed to discriminate against gay couples if they request a license to be married.

But you did discriminate. You paid a small price by being tossed into jail for a few days.

Well, you’re going back to work Monday.

There likely will be more marriage licenses requests awaiting you; after all, you stopped issuing them to anyone, which is why the judge tossed you into the hoosegow in the first place.

What are you going to do once you show up at the Rowan County clerk’s office there in Kentucky?

Here’s a suggestion from an outpost a good bit west of you: Do your damn job or else turn in your resignation.

You say your religious teaching forbids gay marriage. Who cares? The oath you took doesn’t allow you to stand behind your faith. It says you must uphold the laws of the land. And you also ought to stop the “religious persecution” nonsense … and while you’re at it, tell your Republican presidential candidate/surrogates — such as Mike Huckabee — to can that malarkey as well.

I’m betting real money some gay couples will be at your door when it opens Monday morning.

Just remember: All Americans are entitled to be treated equally. The U.S. Constitution says so. The nation’s highest court has affirmed it.

It’s up to you now. The nation knows how you feel about gay marriage. There’s never been the need for you to use your office to make a personal statement of faith. Do not continue to abuse your public office in that fashion.



Get set for lots of split City Council votes

ama city council

Three to two.

We’d all better get ready for a lot of those votes on critical issues that come before the Amarillo City Council.

Does a three-fifths vote in any governing body — no matter its size — constitute a consensus? Hardly. It says only that the body is divided. Does it represent the division that lies out here among us constituents? I’m not yet ready to concede that point.

Think of it in terms of the U.S. Supreme Court, which fairly routinely splits along ideological lines on key — sometimes landmark — decisions. The court likely will split 5 to 4, with the conservative majority winning the argument over the liberal minority.

Do all Americans see these 5-4 court decisions as a sign of consensus? Oh, no. Indeed, the court’s deeply split decisions are bound to trigger national debates over the rightness or the wrongness of whatever decision the court hands down.

I’m guessing a similar discussion might play out in Amarillo as the City Council takes up key issues. The city budget likely will be decided by a deeply split vote. You can rest assured that any issue relating to downtown Amarillo revival project will face a similarly split vote.

And just like the deep divisions that split the nation’s highest court, where dissenting opinions often produce as much as heat as the majority opinions, we here in Amarillo might have to expect fiery dissents from those in the minority on these key votes.

There used to be an unwritten rule at City Hall every one on the council — or commission, as it once was known — was expected to back whatever decision that came forth. Those who opposed a decision weren’t asked to support it publicly, but there was an accepted silence from those who voted on the short end of whatever decision came from City Hall.

I’m betting the mistrust that exists on both sides of this new 3 to 2 City Council divide won’t allow quiet acquiescence.

This, I submit, is part of the “change” that has arrived at City Hall.

Good luck with that, City Council.


Now the clerk is free … to quit her job


Believe this or not, but I am glad that Kim Davis is no longer in jail.

A federal judge ordered the Rowan County (Ky.) clerk to jail because she had stopped issuing marriage licenses to protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage all across the United States of America; the ruling includes Kentucky.

I didn’t want her jailed over this.

Davis is free, therefore, to make a critical decision.

She needs to quit her job as county clerk. Heck, she won’t perform all the duties required of her. She cites religious objections to the legalization of gay marriage, even though she has a rather checkered heterosexual marital history herself.

The germane issue is whether Davis will do the job to which she swore an oath.

She insists she cannot. Her husband says she’s become a victim of a government that is persecuting her because of her Christian beliefs — which, by many people’s thinking, is a serious crock of mule fritters. Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz say Davis is a victim of “judicial tyranny,” which also is so much malarkey.

Just quit your job, Mme. Clerk, and take up the cudgel against gay marriage as a private citizen. You are free to do so. No one’s going to arrest you.


Clerk goes to jail for violating her oath


The Kim Davis story is driving me batty.

She’s now in jail because she won’t perform the duties as county clerk that are required of her. She took an oath to perform them. Now she’s saying she cannot because her “conscience” won’t allow her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

A judge found her in contempt of court and threw her into the slammer.

Mike Huckabee has entered the fray by declaring that Davis’s jailing proves that the government has criminalized Christianity. The former Arkansas governor and current Republican presidential candidate says Davis is within her rights to invoke her “religious liberty” by refusing to follow the mandate set down by the United States Supreme Court.

Huck is wrong.

Davis’s religious liberty is not being challenged here. She is free to pray as she wishes. She is free to attend whatever church she wants. She is not free to flout the oath of office she took that says she shall uphold state and federal law.

The federal law now includes a decision by the Supreme Court that says gay couples are entitled under the U.S. Constitution to be married. But then Huckabee dismisses that ruling, declaring on Davis’s behalf that, by golly, that decision merely comes from “nine unelected federal judges.”

Davis, as county clerk in Rowan County, Ky., is required to follow that law.

She hasn’t done so. She’s now in jail.

She needs to quit. Or … she needs to be removed from office.

Let’s put this story to bed. It’s gone on long enough.


Resign from your office, Kim Davis


Consider this an open letter to Kim Davis, the rogue county clerk in Kentucky who thinks she’s above the law.

Madame Clerk, quit pretending you’re serving the people of Rowan County, Ky., your state and your nation.

You keep refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because, you say, God doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage.

But the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples are entitled to be married, just like straight couples. It ruled recently that you cannot keep refusing to issue the licenses to gay residents of your state. You still refuse. Hey, does that mean you’re in contempt of court?

I get that you’re invoking your religious liberty.

But your freedom to pray as you wish isn’t being threatened here. What’s at issue is whether you’re going to remain faithful to the secular oath you took when you became Rowan County clerk.

It says you will uphold the laws of the state and the nation. It doesn’t provide any qualifiers; there’s nothing in the oath that allows you to say “but only if those laws do not conflict with my religious beliefs.”

You adhere to all the laws or none of them. If you can’t do your job, then quit.

To be honest, I would salute if you did exactly that.

Kim Davis defies the high court


Read your oath of office, Mme. Clerk


Kim Davis took an oath when she became a county clerk in Kentucky to uphold the constitutions of her state and her nation.

The oath, I’m quite willing to suggest, didn’t include any exemptions for her religious faith.

Thus, it becomes imperative that she fulfill all the terms of the oath she took.

But she’s refusing to do that.

Instead, she’s refusing to grant marriage certificates to gay couples. She cites her religious belief opposing gay marriage and the U.S. Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.

I get that Kim Davis’s Christian faith is important to her. Mine is important to me as well.

But she took an oath to uphold the law. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court this year has ruled that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states. That includes Kentucky.

To their credit, Potter County Clerk Julie Smith and Randall County Clerk Renee Calhoun declared they would issue marriage certificates to same-sex couples who request them. I also would have applauded either or both of them had they resigned if their religious faith interfered with their public oath.

Davis should resign from her office, as some county clerks have done around the country. She cannot serve in an elected public office without carrying out all the duties that the office requires.




Most county clerks are going to follow the law

Well, it turns out Texas’s county courthouses aren’t occupied by defiant rebels intent on ignoring state and federal law.

According to the Texas Tribune, most county clerks — and I presume that to mean more than 127 of them — are going to comply with a Supreme Court ruling that legalizes gay marriage across the nation.


Those who don’t will face lawsuits from couples seeking marriage licenses.

I was intrigued by the story that included statements from way up yonder, in tiny Roberts County, that officials there will issue licenses to same-sex couples when they apply for them.

Randall and Potter clerks said from the outset of the ruling that they would issue the licenses, even though Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decreed it was all right with him if counties declined to do so.

The Tribune reports: “Hartley County Clerk Melissa Mead said her office won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses until the clock runs out on the 25 days that parties in the Supreme Court case have to ask for a rehearing of the case.”

A handful of the state’s 254 counties are bucking the highest court in the land — not to mention ignoring the oath that county clerks take that require them to uphold federal law.

A handful of clerks in other states have declined to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — and have resigned their public offices in protest. I’m OK with those who quit rather than flout their oath. Those who resign are far more principled, in my view, than those who simply refuse to do their duty based on religious principles. Their oaths don’t allow for that, as I read the oath they all must take.

A friend posted this portion of a New York Times editorial on the subject:


“Some same-sex marriage opponents argue that under state religious-freedom laws, a government employee’s beliefs should be accommodated so long as another official is available to carry out the task. But government employees do not have a constitutionally protected right to pick and choose which members of the public they will serve, no matter their religious beliefs. Not so long ago, of course, government officials invoked religious beliefs to justify all manner of racial segregation and discrimination, including laws banning interracial marriage. The Supreme Court struck down that marriage ban in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. It is impossible to imagine any county clerk or judge now claiming a right not to marry an interracial couple based on religious beliefs. And yet, that would be analogous to what these public employees are doing in refusing to serve same-sex couples. The Constitution’s protection of religious freedom simply does not include the right to discriminate against others in the public sphere.”

As I see it, there you have it.

Redistricting really and truly matters to us

Redistricting is an issue that usually appeals to policy wonks, political junkies and perhaps nerds who have nothing better to do than think about this stuff.

I’m not really a wonk; I don’t consider myself a nerd. I am a bit of a political junkie.

But the redistricting mess is something that ought to concern everyone who’s affected by state and national government.

That means, um, everyone.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on its last day of his latest term that Arizona can allow someone other than the legislature to redraw congressional lines. The 5-4 ruling means that the state can appoint a special commission to do the job left normally to partisan politicians.

So, what does that mean for Texas?

Probably not as much as it should, according to the Texas Tribune.


The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo used to say that redistricting provided Republicans the “chance to eat their young.” I never quite understood what he meant by Republicans eating their young. Democrats do the same thing.

The Texas Legislature redraws legislative and congressional boundaries after every census is taken. It’s done a horrible job of gerrymandering districts into shapes that make zero sense. It’s a bipartisan exercise in political power retention.

After the 1990 census, Democrats who controlled the Texas Legislature managed to split Amarillo in half in an effort to protect Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius. It worked through one election cycle, as Sarpalius was-re-elected in 1992. Then came 1994 and Sarpalius got tossed out when voters elected Republican Mac Thornberry.

Some of the congressional districts downstate snake along streets and highways. They make zero sense.

As the Texas Tribune reports: “The Arizona case opens the door for voters to take the map-drawing away from the people who are occupationally dependent on the lines on those maps. That’s a fancy way of saying the lawmakers have a conflict of interest when they draw. They’re picking their voters instead of drawing the lines as if they had no interest at all.”

Did you get that? Legislators who draw the lines are the actual beneficiaries of their very own work.

They shouldn’t be involved. The Constitution doesn’t require legislators to do this task; it says only that states must do it.

If legislatures pass that duty to specially appointed commissions, then they are entitled to do so.

So, Texas legislators, what are you waiting for?

County clerk stands on principle … and quits

Dana Guffey is a principled public servant.

Do I agree with a particular principle that caused her to quit her job as a county clerk in Arkansas? No — but that’s not the point of this post.

My point is that Guffey quit her public service job because she opposes the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalizes gay marriage across the land.

She should be applauded for her principled decision, which has far more integrity than the idea promoted by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said it is just fine with him if county clerks declined to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Paxton’s view has been endorsed by Texas Republican officeholders.

These county clerks can stay on the job. They just don’t have to fulfill their oath.


To their credit, Potter and Randall counties’ clerks — Republicans Julie Smith and Renee Calhoun, respectively — have said they will issue licenses to same-sex couples when the opportunities present themselves. They’ve chosen to fulfill their oath, which means they vow to uphold national and state laws.

Meanwhile, Cleburne County, Ark., Clerk Dana Guffey has chosen to quit rather than do something with which she disagrees.

The Roosevelt County, N.M., clerk quit her job as well when New Mexico legalized gay marriage in 2013. I had no problem with her resignation, either. It, too, became a matter of principle.

No one says a public official must continue to hold a job if they disagree with fulfilling any of its required duties. The highest court in America has determined that since gay marriage is now legal, that it is constitutional — as opposed to state laws prohibiting it. Thus, issuing marriage licenses to gay couples becomes part of the job description.

If you cannot do the job, you quit.

That is what Dana Guffey did.