Thursday, July 18, 2013

Judge Leon Holmes recuses from challenge of Arkansas same-sex marriage ban

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 9:08 PM

OFF GAY MARRIAGE CASE: Judge Leon Holmes
  • OFF GAY MARRIAGE CASE: Judge Leon Holmes
Federal Judge Leon Holmes has recused from hearing the federal civil rights lawsuit filed this week challenging the Arkansas ban on same-sex marriage.

Holmes cited his long professional and personal relationships with people who worked to put the constitutional marriage ban on the ballot. He'd earlier worked with some of the same people in behalf of the Arkansas amendment prohibiting abortion spending by the state and also aimed at preventing abortion in Arkansas should Roe v. Wade ever be reversed.

The case has been reassigned to Judge Kristine Baker.

Here's his order. It said in part:

I am recusing from this case because of long-standing, close personal and professional relationships with persons who were leaders in drafting and campaigning for Amendment 83. One of those persons is identified by name in the body of the complaint. These relationships were forged in the 1980s in campaigns regarding issues similar to, though not the same as, the issues surrounding Amendment 83. The professional aspect of these relationships ceased upon my appointment to this office, but the close personal relationships have continued.

The reference to the person quoted is likely to Jerry Cox, leader of Arkansas Family Council, a conservative religious political lobby that has worked to suppress abortion, gay adoption, gay marriage and gay rights in general.

The judge said the standard for disqualification is that a judge should do so in "any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." After "careful consideration," he said, the law requires him to recuse in this case.

Holmes' history of association with conservative religious political causes was well-known. Additionally, he's written and spoken on the subject of how religion guides his work as a lawyer. At its core, the Family Council says its opposition to equal treatment of gay people under the law is rooted in the organization's belief that the Bible says homosexuality is immoral.

Holmes' judicial nomination almost foundered over his writing and activity in anti-abortion matters. The linked article recounts the flash point of the controversy:

Holmes argued in a 1997 article co-written with his wife for a Catholic publication that “the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.” In another article, he incorrectly claimed that “concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” Holmes also wrote, in a response to a 1987 article, that abortion-rights activists were pushing the country to abandon “what little morality our society recognizes. This was attempted by one highly sophisticated, historically Christian nation in our century — Nazi Germany.”

Sen. Mark Pryor spoke up for Holmes against Republican opposition. He ultimately was confirmed. He apologized in 2003, 16 years after the fact, for his "strident and harsh" rhetoric.

In 2009, Holmes wrote an article for the University of Arkanas at Little Rock Law Review, "What it means to be a lawyer of faith." It was a revised version of a speech he delivered at the annual Red Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of St. Andrew.

It closed:

A lawyer of faith, in following the moral teachings that he believes come from God, may become an advocate for an unpopular cause, or he may refuse to participate in some course of action that a client or a partner demands. But at some point, if he lives in the light of eternity, his principles will clash with those of the world, and then it may happen that men will revile him and persecute him and utter all kinds of evil against him falsely. It happened to the patron saint of lawyers, Saint Thomas More. It happened to Christ.

The article had given pause to some working for marriage equality under the law. But it's worth noting that no one had asked the judge to step down from the case. He enjoys a good reputation among lawyers for intellect and fairness.

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