Essay: On Marriage, Elected Judges Showing ‘Fear of Politics’?

Is there a difference between how state judges who are elected, and those who are appointed, address bans against marriage for same-sex couples? A Los Angeles Times op-ed by Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress and Eric Lesh of Lambda Legal says there is a difference.

State high courts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and New Jersey have issued decisions in favor of marriage equality, as have judges in Hawaii and California, although ballot measures later overruled those judges’ rulings, the authors said. All of these judges were appointed, and, the authors added, “Like federal judges with life tenure, they felt at liberty to side with equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, even if in so doing they were siding against the majority.”

Elected judges in such states as Arkansas and Texas “have lagged behind for years, perhaps because they feel pressure to rule based on popular sentiment,” the authors said, and the justices in those states “seem to be avoiding a political controversy by delaying their rulings.” And elected justices in Alabama voted to defy a federal court order telling probate judges that same-sex couples have a right to marry. The authors concluded, with an eye on an ultimate ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court:

“For some families, this month’s decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is their first chance at resolution in years. They are entitled to, at the very least, access to justice. And that requires judges who are prepared to rule on important issues in a timely fashion — without fear of politics.”

Lambda Legal is a JAS partner organization.