Couples ask justices to recuse themselves in marriage case

LITTLE ROCK — Same-sex couples challenging Arkansas’ gay marriage ban on Monday asked any state Supreme Court justices who plan on seeking re-election to recuse themselves, arguing a legislative resolution supporting the prohibition could sway their opinion.

 

The couples filed a motion asking any justice expecting to run for re-election anytime in the future to consider not hearing the appeal of a state judge’s decision striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban earlier this year, which led 541 gay couples receiving marriage licenses before Piazza’s ruling was suspended by the state Supreme Court.

A legislative panel in June approved a resolution condemning Piazza’s decision and urging justices to uphold the ban. In Monday’s filing, the couples call the Arkansas Legislative Council’s resolution and the suggestion by some lawmakers that voters be allowed to recall judges “intimidation tactics.”

“The actions of the Legislative Council and its members are unfortunate, as they create an appearance that outside influences could have an impact on those sitting justices who expect to seek election to court in the future,” the filing said. “The delivery of the resolution to this court alone creates such an appearance in the eyes of the public.”

Two new members of the state Supreme Court were elected in the May 23 election, and Justice Karen Baker was re-elected. The two new justices won’t take office until next year.

It’s unclear when the court will decide the appeal in the gay marriage lawsuit. The state faces a Sept. 8 deadline to file its brief.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is appealing Piazza’s decision to the state Supreme Court. McDaniel, a Democrat serving his last year in office, has said he personally supports gay marriage but will continue defending Arkansas’ ban in court.

McDaniel on Monday said he doesn’t believe that state Supreme Court justices should be elected and said he’d prefer a system such as Missouri’s, where they’re appointed and then subject to retention elections. But he dismissed the idea of Arkansas justices stepping aside from the gay marriage case.

“So long as we have our current system, it is a nonstarter to file recusal motions simply because justices must hear controversial cases and then stand for election, as that is precisely what is contemplated in our constitution,” McDaniel said in a statement released by his office.

 

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