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 Since 2017, only one other nominee has been withdrawn for a reason other than a resignation or death, records show.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