State Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes has never made any secret of his views on issues about which he is ethically obliged to keep his trap shut.
He made his views on judicial impartiality plain when he won promotion from the court of appeal in 2012 after campaigning as a gun-toting, anti-abortion believer in capital punishment and traditional marriage.
Since his opposition to gay marriage was set in stone, he was not about to miss the chance to denounce the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of it. His fellow Justice Jeannette Knoll also vented her displeasure last week, while another, John Weimer, weighed in with an opinion that is too wishy-washy to make much sense of, but presumably he wouldn’t have filed it if he were at ease with gay marriage.
Knoll and Weimer, albeit grudgingly in her case, at least, agreed they had no choice but to reject the state’s appeal of a district court ruling that upheld the right of gays to marry and adopt. They conceded that they are bound by the U.S. Supreme Court decision, which should be too obvious to need saying.
But the vote was only 6-1. Hughes, for crying out loud, dissented. So Louisiana has a Supreme Court justice who believes that following the law of the land is optional. Never mind Hughes’ ethics. He is clearly too dim for this job. He wrote that it would be wrong to surrender his “honest convictions merely to reach agreement,” evidently failing to grasp that his convictions, honest or otherwise, had been rendered irrelevant.
The definition of marriage “cannot be changed by legalisms,” according to Hughes. Wrong; it just has been, although few judges would dismiss the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a “legalism.”
In citing the Equal Protection Clause to uphold gay marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court employed much the same reasoning as state District Judge Edward Rubin, who ruled last year in favor of two lesbians in Lafayette seeking to have their California marriage recognized in Louisiana. One was a mother, and the other wanted the birth certificate amended to name her as a parent.
When Rubin decided in their favor and declared Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell sprang into outraged action and filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court. Rubin’s ruling was stayed pending a decision. Now it is the law.
Perhaps it would not have been had the state Supreme Court been left to its own devices, for it is hardly beyond the bounds of possibility that at least one of the other four justices would have sided with Knoll, Weimer and Hughes to reaffirm Louisiana’s ban on gay marriage. But none offered a clue.
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson and Marcus Clark had nothing to add to the per curiam opinion that the issues raised in the appeal had been resolved by superior authority. Greg Guidry, joined by Scott Crichton, did issue a separate concurring opinion but only to remonstrate with Hughes for the preposterous suggestion that a U.S. Supreme Court opinion could be disregarded.
Presumably, Johnson, Clark, Guidry and Crichton, having just closed a case by declaring that their views on gay marriage no longer matter, saw no point in proceeding to expound them. Hughes, as the only justice unable to grasp the simple and obvious fact that dissent was not a rational possibility, evidently felt obliged to offer his views, but Knoll and Weimer had no such excuse.
Why Weimer decided to file a concurring opinion is by no means obvious, because it never ventures beyond the platitudinous. We could have figured out for ourselves, for instance, that “judicial decisions should be guided by the rule of law,” while there is no way to prove him wrong when he writes that the “ramifications of (the U.S. Supreme Court) decision will likely continue to resonate.” Weimer does not, however, tell us what he thinks of the decision, and, while he had no call to do so, we are left to wonder what was the conceivable point of penning a separate opinion.
Knoll, on the other hand, is forthright, adopting the arguments, and a few of the phrases, contained in Antonin Scalia’s dissent, as, for instance, in her diatribe against the nine “unelected lawyers” who make up the U.S. Supreme Court and supposedly trample on our democratic rights.
That was pure self-indulgence on Knoll’s part, because nobody needed her to explain how the system works. Except for Hughes.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.