Paxton asks to be excused from contempt of court hearing

Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton asked that he and interim commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services Kirk Cole be excused from a contempt of court hearing on Wednesday, Aug. 12.

The order to appear was issued by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia because Cole and Paxton refused to recognize a same-sex marriage for purposes of a death certificate. Their refusal defies Garcia’s marriage-equality ruling that declared the Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional.

Garcia ordered the state recognize the marriage of John and James Stone-Hoskins. James died earlier this year before the Supreme Court ruling. But Garcia’s ruling was made in February 2014 and was affirmed by the Fifth District Court of Appeals in July 2015.

Although Garcia ordered the state to reissue the death certificate immediately, it took Cole’s office two days to comply.

Cole and Paxton had until today to respond to the court with any written defense. Instead, they asked to be excused from appearing. They also asked the judge to rule by 3 p.m. so they’d have time to appeal.

I’m sure Garcia will respond to that request “immediately.”

—  David Taffet

Attorney General Ken Paxton should resign

James Russell columnIn the seven months that Ken Paxton has served as Texas’ top law enforcement officer, he has slammed the federal government for its immigration policies, the Environmental Protection Agency for its environmental regulations, the Supreme Court for its rulings upholding the Affordable Care Act and legalizing marriage equality nationwide, defended the state’s stringent anti-abortion law and praised in broad terms further deregulation of the Second Amendment.

To be fair, as Texas Attorney General, Paxton’s office must defend the state court lawsuits, including those filed by his predecessor, now-Gov. Greg Abbott. Just like his predecessor he also has ambitions for higher office. Also like Abbott, his statements read like a fundraising letter. While it is clear he inherited a politicized office from Abbott, Paxton has recently done the office nor taxpayers NO additional favors.

Paxton is already under investigation by a Collin County grand jury for violating state securities law, an admission he made freely and then paid a $1,000 fine for. Under state law, it is illegal for an attorney to accept client commissions without registering first with the state securities board. Paxton not only broke the law but also broke a law he helped pass a state legislator.

Despite this revelation on the campaign trail he defeated two Republican challengers, former Rep. Dan Branch and former Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman. In the general election he defeated Democrat opponent Sam Houston, a Houston-area attorney, in a landslide. Of course, in both instances he was boosted by an energized grassroots and the support of wealthy Tea Party backers. They encouraged, or, more likely were encouraged by, his hard-line rhetoric on any number of issues. (Who wrote the talking points remains the question.)

Regardless of what he may actually believe, when looking for a quick political ascendency, look no further then the Texas GOP grassroots and their wealthy backers for advice. From state representative to one-term state senator to the state’s top law enforcement office,he got what he wanted.

Sadly Paxton’s carelessness, irresponsibility and smugness did not end with an admission or a fine, much less at the door of his private practice. He has also taken those traits to his taxpayer-funded office.

Following Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, his office issued the requisite statement denouncing the decision. He also predictably, following April’s arguments, released a statement defending the state’s marriage ban.

Despite it being out of his responsibility, he then issued an opinion permitting county clerks and other government officials to decline to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs. While responsibly acknowledging clerks may be held liable, he sealed the fundraising envelope when he offered pro bono legal defense to any clerk mired in litigation for the decision. Religious liberty is an inherent right extended to all individuals, including those who genuinely oppose or support same-sex marriage for those reasons.

Even if you disagree politically or morally, issuing a marriage license does not mean you are sanctioning it. You cannot flout federal law.

Sadly that’s not what he told county clerks and potential donors across the state.

Between his politicization of his office and clear disregard for the law as represented by the pending criminal probe and irresponsible opinion on marriage equality, it has become clear Paxton is unfit for office. But in using Paxton’s logic, I can only conclude two things: breaking the law doesn’t violate his religious convictions, but resigning does. Whether or not a criminal indictment decides his professional fate in spite of any religious convictions, however, is an entirely different matter.

—  James Russell

Paxton bemoans the horror of marriage equality, predicts wrack and ruin

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Less than 24 hours after insisting that Texas county clerks needed to get his approval to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if the U.S. Supreme Court issued a pro-marriage-equality ruling today (Friday, June 26) — which the court did, shortly after 9 a.m. CST — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement calling the ruling “an assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution” and predicting widespread death and destruction — OK, really he just said it will dilute marriage as a societal institution and endanger religious liberty.

If we had even a smidgen of belief that Paxton has actually read the U.S. Constitution, or even the Texas Constitution, we might be more inclined to pay attention. But …..

Anyway. Here’s his statement in its entirety. If you have a weak. stomach, make sure you haven’t just eaten something when you read it:

“Today’s ruling by five Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. The impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric of our nation will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution.

“What is most disturbing is the extent to which this opinion is yet another assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law itself. Just as Roe v. Wade ripped from the hands of the American people the issue of life and placed it in the judge-made ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution, so has this opinion made clear that our governing document — the protector of our liberties through representative government — can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.

“But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing will change the importance of a mother and a father to the raising of a child. And nothing will change our collective resolve that all Americans should be able to exercise their faith in their daily lives without infringement and harassment.

“We start by recognizing the primacy and importance of our first freedom — religious liberty. The truth is that the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely-held religious beliefs about marriage. In numerous incidents trumpeted and celebrated by a sympathetic media, progressives advocating the anti-traditional marriage agenda have used this issue to publicly mock, deride and intimidate devout individuals for daring to believe differently than they do. This ruling will likely only embolden those who seek to punish people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.

“It is not acceptable that people of faith be exposed to such abuse. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects our religious liberty and shields people of faith from such persecution, but those aspects of its protections have been denigrated by radicals, echoed by the media and an increasingly-activist judiciary. Consistent with existing federal and state Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that should already protect religious liberty and prevent discrimination based on religion, we must work to ensure that the guarantees of the First Amendment, protecting freedom of religion, and its corollary freedom of conscience, are secure for all Americans.

“Our guiding principle should be to protect people who want to live, work and raise their families in accordance with their religious faith. We should ensure that people and businesses are not discriminated against by state and local governments based on a person’s religious beliefs, including discrimination against people of faith in the distribution of grants, licenses, certification or accreditation; we should prevent harassing lawsuits against people of faith, their businesses and religious organizations; we should protect non-profits and churches from state and local taxes if the federal government penalizes them by removing their 501(c)(3) status; and we should protect religious adoption and foster care organizations and the children and families they serve. Shortly, my office will be addressing questions about the religious liberties of clerks of court and justices of the peace.

“Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all.

“Despite this decision, I still have faith in America and the American people. We must be vigilant about our freedom and must use the democratic process to make sure America lives up to its promise as a land of freedom, religious tolerance and hope.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

AG Ken Paxton: wait for my blessing before you issue marriage licenses

Ken-Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a statement today (Thursday, June 25)  ahead of a pending Supreme Court decision on marriage equality urging county officials to wait for a legal decision from his office before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Citing the state’s law banning same-sex marriage, Paxton recommends “that all County Clerks and Justices of the Peace wait for direction and clarity from this office about the meaning of the Court’s opinion and the rights of Texans under the law. If the Court [disagrees with the state], prudence dictates we reflect on precisely what the Court says, what it means, and how to proceed consistent with the rule of law.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is widely anticipated to come down tomorrow (Friday, June 26), the anniversary of the Lawrence and Windsor decisions. If not tomorrow, the decision will be handed down Monday, June 29.

For the record: Paxton has no real say in this, per state code. And legal experts have told Dallas Voice that public officials who defy a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality can be held personally liable for doing so.

And while we’re on the subject of flouting the law, the state’s top law enforcement officer has admitted to and been fined for violating state securities law. He is now under investigation by a Collin County grand jury.

Laws be damned.

—  James Russell

AG Holder says DOJ will file briefs with SCOTUS supporting equality

Screen shot 2015-01-16 at 4.42.32 PM

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has issued this statement regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear cases on marriage equality and the Justice Department’s intention to file “friend of the court” briefs in support of marriage equality:

“After the Justice Department’s decision not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court sent a powerful message that Americans in same-sex marriages are entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the law. This landmark decision marked a historic step toward equality for all American families.

“The Supreme Court has announced that it will soon hear several cases raising core questions concerning the constitutionality of same-sex marriages. As these cases proceed, the Department of Justice will remain committed to ensuring that the benefits of marriage are available as broadly as possible. And we will keep striving to secure equal treatment for all members of society — regardless of sexual orientation.

“As such, we expect to file a ‘friend of the court’ brief in these cases that will urge the Supreme Court to make marriage equality a reality for all Americans. It is time for our nation to take another critical step forward to ensure the fundamental equality of all Americans — no matter who they are, where they come from, or whom they love.”

—  Tammye Nash

UPDATED: Human Rights Campaign praises outgoing AG Eric Holder

eric holder.smallFollowing reports that United States Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation today, the Human Rights Campaign released a statement praising him while calling for President Obama to nominate an out LGBT cabinet member.

“Some Attorneys General wait for history, others make history happen. Attorney General Holder made history for the LGBT community,” said Chad Griffin, president of HRC. “He was our Robert F. Kennedy, lightening the burden of every American who faces legal discrimination and social oppression. We owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his legacy of advocacy and service.”

“The President has expressed a commitment to appointing a cabinet that reflects the full diversity of the American people, and there are many richly-qualified candidates available to serve as the first openly-LGBT cabinet secretary. It would be a natural extension of this administration’s enduring commitment to equality to send a message of visibility and inclusion by nominating such a candidate to serve in this historic role,” Griffin added.

You can read the full statement here.

According to NPR, the nation’s first black attorney general is one of the longest-serving Obama appointees and “ranks as the fourth longest tenured AG in history.”

Holder is well-known for refusing to defend DOMA and suing Texas over its voter ID law.

He plans to serve until a successor is nominated and approved by the Senate.

Check out Instant Tea throughout the day as details come in.

—  James Russell

Holder: DOJ will file brief in favor of same-sex marriage

eric holder.small

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News’ Pierre Thomas on Monday that the Justice Department will be filing a brief in the Utah same-sex marriage case urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a lower-court ruling and block states from banning same-sex marriage.

District Judge Robert J. Shelby ruled last December that Utah’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling last month, and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes announced that instead of asking the full 10th Circuit Court to review the case, he would appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Holder said that filing the brief would be “consistent with the actions we have taken over the past couple of years,” in which the Justice Department has refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Holder said that decision was “vindicated by the Supreme Court,” which ruled last year in Windsor vs. United States that the sections of DOMA allowing the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in jurisdictions that recognize such marriages are unconstitutional.

Holder told Thomas that he believes banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that such bans cannot survive the standard of heightened scrutiny. He called the fight for LGBT rights “a defining civil rights challenge of our time,” and that LGBT people are waiting for an “unequivocal declaration that separate is inherently unequal.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Dan Branch vows to defend state’s right to trample on rights of women, gays

branchdan

State Rep. Dan Branch speaks at a Log Cabin Republicans meeting in Dallas in 2008. But don’t expect Branch to address the gay GOP group again now that he’s running for statewide office. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Republican State Rep. Dan Branch, who represents much of Dallas’ Oak Lawn gayborhood in the Texas House, vowed to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as he kicked off his campaign for attorney general on Tuesday.

“Whether defending our First Amendment freedoms, the Second Amendment right to bear arms or the 10th Amendment’s reservation of power to the states, I will exhaust all available remedies to protect Texas from attacks on our freedoms,” Branch said. “When our federal government fails to protect our borders or fulfill its commitment of emergency relief to communities like West, I won’t stop until the federal bureaucrats are held accountable. And I will fight for our state’s right to protect the unborn and our right to define marriage as between one man and one woman.”

In other words, Branch wants to protect Texas’ “right” to trample on the freedoms of women and same-sex couples.

—  John Wright

Log Cabin calls for immediate end to DADT, says keeping policy in place during repeal is ‘absurd’

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Gay rights advocates on Monday filed a challenge to a request by the Obama administration to keep the repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in place while the Pentagon prepares for an end to the ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

In a brief filed in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, lawyers for gay political group Log Cabin Republicans said keeping the policy in place was “absurd.”

At issue is the constitutionality of Congress allowing the policy to stay in effect to give the Pentagon time to train troops and take other steps outlined in December when lawmakers repealed the 1993 law that put the ban in place. Under the new policy, the restrictions remain until the Pentagon certifies that the change won’t damage combat readiness.

The repeal came several months after a federal district judge issued an injunction barring enforcement of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” declaring in September that the policy was unconstitutional.

The Obama administration request to keep the policy in place was made in its brief challenging the injunction. Dan Woods, who is representing the Log Cabin Republicans, replied in the brief filed Monday.

“Even though a judge found this to be unconstitutional and the administration is not disagreeing with that, they are still investigating and able to discharge people,” he said.

Earlier this year, the administration said it would no longer defend the 1996 federal law that prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages.

President Barack Obama had concluded that any law that treats gay people differently is unconstitutional unless it serves a compelling governmental interest, Attorney General Eric Holder said when discussing the administration’s reasoning for that decision.

—  John Wright

We’re used to state-by-state laws on same-sex marriage, but what about county by county?

Conservative House Republicans in Iowa have introduced a bill that would prohibit county recorders form issuing marriage licenses — and block the state Supreme Court from reviewing the issue.

The apparent goal of the legislation is to prevent additional same-sex marriages in Iowa before a constitutional amendment can be passed to ban them. The Iowa House has already approved a resolution that would launch such an amendment.

But even the state’s attorney general says the latest proposal is unconstitutional because it would block review by the state Supreme Court:

That possible outcome: Iowans could challenge a recorder’s decision in trial courts, but those decisions could not be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

That would make the lower court ruling final and would mean Iowa could become a patchwork of counties in which some recognized the law and others did not.

“I think the result is that you would have a hodgepodge of rulings across the state,” Bartrum said. “It would depend on whatever the local district judge thought because there would be no uniform appeal.”

While this legislation would clearly be a bad thing for Iowa, where same-sex marriage is already legal, we wouldn’t mind seeing a different version of it in Texas. Since our state leaders claim they’re all about local control, why not let the gays marry in Dallas County?

—  John Wright