jump to navigation

A Nation of Laws, Not Men (Defining Ideas) September 3, 2013

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds, Policy Articles & Papers.
Tags: , ,
trackback

On September 4, a court in Pennsylvania will consider whether a county registrar of wills may issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in contravention of state law because he has decided that law is unconstitutional. This official has now issued over 100 such licenses and other public officials (mayors) have used them to perform same sex wedding ceremonies. The legal challenge by the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which has overall responsibility for marriage laws and licensing, is loaded with constitutional, legal, social, and marital consequences, all of which deserve careful consideration.

At the same time, the Governor and Attorney General of Pennsylvania have exchanged political blows over whether that state law banning same sex marriage should be defended in court and, if so, who has the responsibility to do that. The attorney general says Pennsylvania’s 1996 law stating that marriage is between a man and a woman is “wholly unconstitutional” and she will not defend it, even though the recent Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. United States said states were free to make their own decisions about gay marriage.

This follows on the heels of President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s decision to not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the years prior to the recent determination by the U.S. Supreme Court that the law is unconstitutional. And similar questions arose in the recent California Proposition 8 case when that state’s governor and attorney general declined to defend the law because they felt it was unconstitutional, with the remarkable result, handed down by the Supreme Court, that no one had standing to defend that part of the California Constitution in court.

It looks like a virus is spreading among public officials creating delusions that any one of them may unilaterally decide a law is unconstitutional and decline to follow the law or defend it in court. Setting aside for a moment the same sex marriage context of these actions—we could be talking about environmental laws or gun control or taxes—is it really the case that a single federal, state, or county official is free to make a judgment about the constitutionality of a law and decline to execute, enforce, or defend it? Are we no longer what founder (and second president) John Adams called “a nation of laws and not of men”?

To read the rest of David’s article, please click the link below:

http://www.hoover.org/publications/defining-ideas/article/155081

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: