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In which Greg Abbott moves to protect an anti-gay judge

First, there was this.

The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct on Monday issued a public warning to a Republican judge from Waco who refuses to perform same-sex marriages but still performs them for opposite-sex couples.

McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley told the commission that the way she has handled the matter is based on her “conscience and religion” despite the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

“I sought a solution so that anyone in McLennan County who wants to get married can get married,” Hensley said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. “I have, do, and always will, follow the law.”

Hensley has spoken publicly about her decision, including in a 2017 article in the Waco Tribune-Herald in which she said she felt she was entitled to a “religious exemption.”

“I’m entitled to accommodations just as much as anyone else,” Hensley was quoted saying.

We’re all aware of the bullshit arguments for “accommodation”, the TL;dr summary of which is No, you’re not, you’re entitled to follow the law and treat everyone equally or resign from the bench. People have a right to get married. You can choose to marry any couple with a license and a wish to be married, or you can choose to not enter that entirely optional part of the job. To say “these people can get married but those people can’t” is illegal, insulting, and frankly worth a much harsher penalty from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct than this jackass received.

And then we got the backstory.

Two former members of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct say Gov. Greg Abbott removed them from the panel because he disagreed with their position on a case involving same-sex marriage.

Amy Suhl, a retired information technology executive from Sugar Land, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Maricela Alvarado, of Harlingen, were appointed to the commission as public members in June 2018.

They served as voting members for nine months while waiting for the Texas Senate to confirm their appointments. Then, when they were about to come up for a Senate vote, the governor withdrew the nominations.

It’s extremely uncommon for Abbott’s office to go back on an appointment. Since 2017, only one other nominee has been withdrawn for a reason other than a resignation or death, records show.

Suhl and Alvarado, in recent interviews with Hearst Newspapers, say they were told that the governor had decided to go in a different direction. But they believe Abbott pushed them out because of their votes to sanction a Waco judge who officiates opposite-sex marriages but refuses to conduct gay marriages.

Suhl made an audio recording of a meeting with the governor’s staff and a later phone call. The recordings, which were reviewed by Hearst Newspapers, shows the staffers were encouraging her to act with Abbott’s views in mind.

“When we appoint people, we appreciate so much that people are willing to serve and hope that people understand that they’re serving the governor, not themselves,” one staffer said.

Suhl said the governor’s office wanted to “change them out with the hope that maybe more people would vote the way they want.”

“I thought it was wrong,” she said. “That commission is there to serve the public, to make sure judges are operating ethically, and not to serve any one group’s interest.”

Suhl is of course correct, in the same way that the US Attorney General is supposed to represent and serve the people, not be the personal attorney of the President. I admire her and Lt. Col. Alvarado for their convictions and their willingness to call BS on this. This, at a most fundamental level, is what corruption is. It’s not just about using power for personal gain, it’s also about using it to subvert and go around existing structures and processes to achieve a result that couldn’t have been achieved by letting the system work as designed. It’s about putting pressure on people who were hired or appointed to do a job to do that job in a bent and perverse way, to rig an outcome. This is what that old saying “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Greg Abbott, like Donald Trump, wields his power in service of himself. He does it because he wants to, and because he thinks he’s entitled to. If he had picked less honorable people to serve on this Commission, he might well have gotten away with it, too.

By the way, remember how Abbott rushed to condemn Rick Miller, because (he said) Miller’s comments were “inappropriate and out of touch with the values of the Republican Party”? Clearly, discriminating against some people is inappropriate and out of touch with Republican values, but discriminating against some other people is just peachy. Good to know. The Trib has more.

(Full disclosure: Amy Suhl is retired from the company I work for. I know who she is, though I had no idea about this appointment she was to have had. We never worked together – ours is a big company – and she may or may not know who I am

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13 Comments

  1. Easter says:

    Abbott was successful and he removed the two members insufficiently homophobic from the review board. The review board only issued a warning and not stronger action with those members gone.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    “I’m entitled…” That pretty much sums it up.

  3. Jason Hochman says:

    Judges don’t have to perform weddings. They can just not perform any weddings, and won’t run into that problem.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    Maybe it’s the Christmas season but I actually agree with Jason on something. All or nothing works for me too.

  5. Mainstream says:

    I believe we have at least one local Harris County JP who performs opposite sex marriages, but refuses to conduct same-sex marriages, but provides a substitute minister to do so, and believes he is permitted a similar conscience exemption. I am not aware of any judicial complaint lodged. But I have not checked recently to confirm his current practice.

  6. Wolfgang P Hirczy de Mino says:

    Check out Abbott’s screening survey for applicants for judicial vacancies; item 13 in particular:

    https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/organization/appointments/Abbott_Judicial_Questionnaire.pdf

    12. Name a judge, living or dead, whom you admire and explain the basis for your
    choice.

    13. Pick a U.S. Supreme Court decision that you think was wrongly decided, and
    explain why you think it was wrongly decided.

    14. What, in your view, constitutes a sound judicial temperament?
    15. Judges sometimes face a question of first impression. If there is no controlling
    precedent that is dispositive on an issue before your court, how would you go about deciding the issue?
    16. Under what circumstances is it appropriate for a state court to declare
    unconstitutional

    If it’s not direct evidence of a Litmus test, the answers would at least provide the raw material for covert filtering of candidates.

  7. Tom in Lazybrook says:

    If Waco wants to pay someone the same SALARY and benefits and title to sit around the courthouse all day in case a gay couple shows up AND the discrimanatory judge stops whatever proceeding is going on so that the equally or higher paid official with the same or higher electoral rank and stature in the same jurisdiction can perforn that service without ANY delay in the exact SAME room as the service provided to straights, then lets talk. But under no circumstances should any gay person be provided inferior service by any state official. And if the County is paying for a courtroom or a judges salary to pay for straight marriages and telling gay couples to get married on the street by someone not paid the same salary by the state, thats clearly demeaning to gay marriage.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    I’m very close to Jason’s solution. If you’re a judge doing side work marrying people in the courthouse, then you need to take on all comers, meaning gays, as well as regular couples. Either do it all, or just don’t do it.

    Where I differ: If the judge wants to perform weddings off site, not on public property, on the judges own time, then I’m OK with the judge being able to pick and choose who the judge will marry.

  9. Ross says:

    Bill, that would only apply if the judge was an ordained minister as well as a judge. If the judge is using their public position to perform the ceremony, they need to serve all comers.

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    Ross,

    Think about it like this…..you’re a Houston cop. Many Houston cops moonlight with side jobs that are approved by the department. They’re making side money on their public position as a cop, right?

    So, I’m somebody that wants to hire an off duty cop. I go to HPD and fill out a request, and cops can pick and choose which side job or jobs they might want to do. No specific cop is forced to take a side job that cop doesn’t want to take.

    So, if you don’t want judges to be able to pick and choose which side wedding gigs they want to do, on their own time and out of the courthouse, then lets be fair and stop allowing cops to pick and choose which side jobs they want to take. They can either take whatever side job is issued to them, or not take any at all. Deal?

  11. Mainstream says:

    One proposal by many libertarian Republicans is for the government to get out of the business of issuing a marriage license altogether. Bill, the analogy to police with side jobs is not quite parallel, because the judges who perform weddings often have public staff who field the phone calls and schedule the weddings, and a public courtroom provided at taxpayer expense where the wedding is held at lunch or on a break in court proceedings.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    Mainstream,

    Yes, publicly paid staff who work for the judges field phone calls. I agree. Now, here’s my question, that I really don’t know the answer to….

    When someone wants to hire an off duty HPD officer or HCSO deputy for side work, who do they call? Do they call the union, or do they call a publicly paid staffer that works for the department? Also note that I specifically said judges who pick and choose their clients should do their ceremonies OUT of the courthouse, on their own time.

  13. Terri Leech says:

    If she is getting any money from federal, state or municiple funds she needs to abide by the law and perform marriages for whomever shoes up with a license. Pure and simple.. She is not a minister, pastor or priest . She is a public employee who does not get to hide behind religion in order to have her biased, bigoted feelings. Resign and quit taking my taxes [email protected]*#ch.