Fair and Just Courts

A Spiritual Battle For America's Future: Five Takeaways From The Religious Right's Awakening Conference

On Saturday, roughly 2,000 activists gathered at Faith Assembly, a megachurch in Orlando, for the Awakening, an annual “Prayer and Patriotism event” organized by the Christian Right legal group Liberty Counsel. The Awakening, which Liberty Counsel organizes under the auspices of an amalgam of Religious Right groups called the Freedom Federation, brings together activists from the evangelical Right with the GOP politicians who want their votes.

At this year's event, GOP politicians including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (via video) and RNC faith director Chad Connelly shared a stage with far-right activists including "ex-gays," a phony ex-terrorist and at least two Religious Right leaders who insist that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. 

Here are five takeaways from a day with the core of the Religious Right.

1. Gay Marriage Will Send Christians To Jail

While some on the Right may be trying to shy away from the issue of marriage equality now that it could be on its way to a Supreme Court victory, the activists at the Awakening were not among them. Throughout the conference, marriage between gay and lesbian couples was portrayed as a demonic and existential threat to liberty, one that if allowed to proceed would end in Christianity being outlawed and Christians thrown in jail.

The Republican National Committee’s faith outreach director, Chad Connelly, who was moderating a panel on abortion rights, echoed the Religious Right’s rhetoric when he warned that LGBT rights activists are “coming for the church.”

Far-right pastor Rick Scarborough, who was sitting beside him, agreed that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, pastors will be forced to “participate in same-sex marriage ” or be thrown in jail. Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, moderating a separate panel, issued a similar warning.

Scarborough repeated his warning when he told activists that a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling would outlaw anti-gay speech, thus undermining “the whole nature of America.”

Multiple speakers compared a potential Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous pre-Civil War decision that barred African Americans from citizenship, declaring that it should be met with similar resistance.

2. Losing The Church on Gay Rights Issues

Although the Awakening took place in what appeared to be a generationally diverse, multiethnic church, the crowd at the conference was overwhelmingly older and white. Throughout the conference, speakers bemoaned the fact that the Religious Right was losing support among younger Christians for its political agenda, especially its opposition to LGBT rights.

Liberty University’s Rena Lindevaldsen told the audience at a breakout panel on “sexual rebellion” that when fellow conservative Christians ask her what the “big deal” is about LGBT rights, she responds “it’s a big deal because it’s a big deal to God.” Marriage equality, she told the enthusiastic audience, matters to God because it is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”:

Evangelist Franklin Graham also lamented that “a lot of pastors have quit preaching against homosexuality” out of fear of offending people in their churches who might have gay relatives. He told the audience that “God will bless you and he’ll honor you” if you “don’t shut up” about gay rights and abortion:

This was a crowd that had not given up on discredited “ex-gay” therapy. An “ex-lesbian” activist, Janet Boynes, was given a main stage speaking slot and “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan earned a roaring round of applause from the audience at the “sexual rebellion” panel when he announced that he had been “out of homosexuality for 27 years.”

3. A Spiritual Battle Against Islam And Progressivism

Just as the crowd at the Awakening was upset that the conservative movement and the church have supposedly become less invested in fighting LGBT rights, they were also wary of any overtures between Christians and Muslims.

Graham declared that “Islam is a wicked system” and blasted Christians who say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Kamal Saleem, the self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose personal story has never quite held up to scrutiny , also warned that churches are being “invaded by ‘Chrislam,’” lamenting that Americans are oblivious to the dangers of radical Islam: “We’re watching American Idol and they are doing jihad.” He also warned of what he called “jihad of the womb,” or Muslim immigrants giving birth in order to outnumber Christians.

What activists at the Awakening saw as a war against Islam was merely part of a larger “spiritual battle” between good and evil, God and Satan. In the panel discussion he led on LGBT rights, Matt Barber declared that there is an “Islamo-progressive axis of evil” with a “common enemy”: Christians.

Maine pastor Ken Graves repeated that theme when he declared that American Christians are fighting “militant Islam” and “militant homofascism” and secularists who want to establish a “secular humanist caliphate”:

4. Time Is Running Out On America, And It’s Up To The Church To Save It

Throughout the day, speakers warned that America is running out of time before it is lost forever, and that it is up to conservative Christians to get involved in politics to save the country.

Graham told the crowd that he is more politically outspoken than his father, Billy Graham, because America is in a more dire state of secularism. “When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore,” he said, declaring that the 2016 election is the last chance for the Religious Right to save the country.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, delivered a similar message, warning that “we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from.” Conservative Christians, he declared, must reinvest themselves in politics in order, to among other things, put the Bible in public schools:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, told the crowd that prayer was needed to bring about “spiritual revival” and change the political direction of the country: “If God’s people truly pray down a spiritual awakening, then the political landscape will change.”

“This country did not start because some people had some brilliant ideas, although they did. This country happened because God’s providence was the foundation of their brilliant ideas,” Huckabee said. “Because of his inspiration, this country has been sustained throughout all of its history because of God’s specific intervention in helping us to win battles we should never have one and in keeping us from losing battles we should have lost.”

The RNC’s Connelly also made a plug for conservative churches to engage in partisan politics , urging pastors to buck IRS rules preventing politicking from the pulpit and declaring that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual.”

5. The Religious Right And The GOP Still Need Each Other

One of the strangest moments of the day came when a George W. Bush impersonator walked onto the stage with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver as he introduced Huckabee. Staver jokingly reassured the audience that it was not the former president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has clashed with the Religious Right over gay rights issues. It seemed to be a spontaneous addition to the program, it was hard not to see it also as a reminder to the audience of the potential power of the evangelical vote.

Unlike the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which has become the flagship gathering of the GOP and the Religious Right, the Awakening tends to attract only true believers in the cause. This year, Santorum and Huckabee spoke, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a video message. Connelly, who heads the GOP’s outreach to evangelical voters, moderated a panel on abortion rights, but largely deflected difficult questions from the far-right crowd.

Connelly did not, however, shy away from right-wing conspiracy theories, responding to a question about the “culture of death” in end-of-life care by claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s mythical “death panels” are “a reality":

It was clear throughout the day that however wary the Religious Right and the GOP establishment may be of each other, they still need each other. Speakers like Graham urged conservative Christians to revive the powerful Religious Right pressure machine to win GOP politicians to their side, whether or not they agreed with their issues. Meanwhile, the presence of the GOP candidates and Connelly indicated that this is a voting bloc that is still important to the party, however extreme its priorities may be.

Staver: Supreme Court Pro-Marriage Ruling Would Deserve 'No More Respect' Than Dred Scott

In a speech to this weekend’s Awakening conference in Florida, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver declared that a ruling in favor of marriage equality from the Supreme Court would deserve “no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” court rulings that, respectively, denied citizenship to African Americans and allowed mandatory state sterilization of mentally disabled people.

“I say this: If the Supreme Court can’t get it right, or any judge get it right, on the fundamental, observable, natural created order of marriage as the union between a man and a woman, they can’t get it right on anything, that’s their own opinion, and it deserves no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” he declared.

He warned the audience that a “clash is coming” between religious liberty and LGBT rights that is “unprecedented in American history.”

“Tax exemption, income tax exemption, property tax exemption, everything is going to be impacted,” he said. “You cannot navigate around this. This is a collision of two trains coming in opposite directions on the same track. We are on the precipice of a collision of unprecedented magnitude.”

Jindal, Huckabee And Santorum To Join Far-Right Activists At Liberty Counsel's 'The Awakening'

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, after teaming up with Christian nationalist extremists to host his “The Response” prayer rally in Baton Rouge earlier this year, is now continuing his project of endearing himself to the far fringes of the Religious Right by addressing an annual conference hosted by Liberty Counsel this weekend.

Liberty Counsel’s “The Awakening” event will bring Jindal, along with fellow likely GOP presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, together with some of the most unapologetically extreme Religious Right leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad Rafael.

With speakers from John Eidsmoe, a founding father of the Religious Right’s current Christian nationalist thought, to Kamal Saleem, the phony ex-terrorist and prolific anti-Obama conspiracy theorist, the candidates are sure to be treated to an exciting array of far-right ideas.

Mat Staver

The Awakening is organized by Liberty Counsel, a legal arm of Liberty University founded and chaired by Mat Staver. Staver is particularly invested in anti-LGBT activism both in the U.S. and abroad, where he has spoken out in favor of laws criminalizing homosexuality. Here at home, he has warned that marriage equality will help bring about God’s destruction of America and will be “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.”

Staver’s extremism is not limited to LGBT rights. For instance, at the 2010 Awakening conference, Staver agreed with an audience member who asked if the Affordable Care Act created a private army of Brownshirts for President Obama.

Kamal Saleem

Kamal Saleem claims to be an ex-terrorist who worked for a number of Islamist groups before coming to America to build sleeper cells and ultimately converting to Christianity. The fact that Saleem’s story doesn’t add up — and that he’s suspiciously reluctant to talk about the details — hasn’t stopped him from being a popular speaker on the Religious Right conference circuit, where he impresses audiences with his insider knowledge that President Obama is a secret Muslim out to destroy America.

Saleem uses his literally unbelievable personal story to sell a wide range of conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama attends a mosque in Washington, DC, on Christmas (while he is simultaneously in Hawaii) and that Islamists are working through Sasha and Malia Obama’s babysitters to establish a shadow government.

In 2012, he told The Awakening that when President Obama appeared to be pledging allegiance to the flag, he was actually taking part in an Islamic prayer. The same year, he warned the Values Voter Summit that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be shutting down churches in America within the year:

John Eidsmoe

John Eidsmoe is one of the leading voices behind the Religious Right’s effort to rewrite American history and law to reflect a specific “biblical worldview.” Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was a research assistant on Eidsmoe’s influential 1987 book “Christianity and the Constitution,” cites him as an in influence and his work has permeated the segment of the Religious Right that seeks to take “dominion” over America to avoid God’s judgment.

Eidsmoe has specifically warned that gay rights will bring about divine judgment on the U.S. and wrote a whole book, “Gays & Guns,” arguing against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, warning that they might molest children.

Eidsmoe, who has gotten in trouble in the past for speaking to white supremacist groups, is currently the “senior counsel and resident scholar” at the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a longtime ally.

Rick Scarborough

Rick Scarborough, a Baptist pastor and the head of the Religious Right group Vision America, is one of the most extreme voices in the anti-LGBT movement. Although he insists that he is neither a Democrat or Republican, but a “Christ-ocrat,” he frequently allies with likeminded Republican politicians including Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee to get his followers to the polls.

Scarborough maintains that AIDS is God’s “judgment” for “an immoral act,” warns that the appointment of gay ambassadors would be perfect justification for God to nuke America, and once suggested filing a class action lawsuit against homosexuality.

Scarborough has also dabbled in anti-immigrant nativism, warning that “more non-white families” in the U.S. would lead to fewer Christians and that “if this country becomes 30 percent Hispanic we will no longer be America.”

Franklin Graham

Franklin Graham, a son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, couples his international humanitarian work with an apocalyptic approach to American politics. He predicted that President Obama’sreelectionwould bring about God’s destruction of America and railed that Americans “turned our back on God” by reelecting the president.

Graham’s opinion of the Obama administration was only reinforced when he was disinvited from speaking at an event at the Pentagon because of hishistory of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has since claimed that the White House has been “infiltrated by Muslims” and is being run by Muslims who “hate Israel and hate Christians.” Just this week, he speculated that Obama’s mother “must have been a Muslim,” which he said explains why the president supposedly won’t fight ISIS.

While he may worry that God is getting ready to judge America for President Obama, Graham has implied that the Almighty is smiling on Russian President Vladimir Putin because of his crackdown on LGBT rights in his country. Graham, who has long claimed that Christianity is on the road to being criminalized in the U.S., said last year that pastors must be prepared to get their “heads chopped off” in the fight against gay rights.

Matt Barber

Matt Barber, a former Liberty Counsel official who still hosts a daily radio program with Staver, is best known for his over-the-top bigoted anti-gay rhetoric.

Barber often frames his battle against LGBT equality and reproductive rights as a “spiritual war” in which he is on the side of God. He has called marriage equality the “bidding of the Devil” and warned that by legalizing same-sex marriage, America is “ tempting the wrath of God.” He claims that HIV/AIDS is divine punishment for homosexuality.

Barber is fond of comparing his opponents to Nazis, calling supporters of reproductive rights “modern day Nazis” and LGBT rights advocates “Rainbowshirts” who have “broken out the long knives” to go after Christians. At the same time, he has supported repressive anti-LGBT regimes around the world, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown and saying he’d like to see a ban on “gay propaganda” in the U.S., and defending Uganda’s harsh criminal penalties for LGBT people.

Last year, Barber launched BarbWire.com, an online emporium for right-wing vitriol which he sees as part of his “war” against the “lies” that Satan tells through progressives.​

Cruz: Marriage Equality Decisions 'A Real Danger To Our Liberty'

Sen. Ted Cruz told Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson yesterday that he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying because court decisions in favor of marriage equality present “a real danger to our liberty.”

The Texas Republican deflected Mickelson’s questions on whether states could simply ignore a Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, saying he preferred his constitutional amendment as a solution. “If the courts were following the Constitution, we shouldn’t need a new amendment, but they are, as you put it quite rightly, making it up right now and it’s a real danger to our liberty,” he said.

Cruz told a group of Iowa pastors yesterday that judges who have made decisions in favor of marriage equality are “ignoring their oaths, ignoring the Constitution and legislating from the bench.”

CWA Spox: SCOTUS Marriage Ruling Could Lead To ‘Criminalization Of Religious Beliefs’

Concerned Women for America’s legal counsel, Mario Diaz, stopped by Iowa CWA director Tamara Scott’s radio program last week to discuss the Supreme Court’s upcoming consideration of a number of marriage equality cases.

Scott, who is also a Republican National Committee member, told Diaz that LGBT rights advocates, “the group that exploits the term ‘tolerant’ as their poster,” are actually “so incredibly intolerant to anyone with an opposing view.”

Diaz agreed that a collision between LGBT rights and religious liberty is “inevitable,” and that a Supreme Court marriage equality victory would lead to the “criminalization of religious beliefs.”

“And it is one of the great tragedies that I think I put now at the feet of the Supreme Court, if they are considering finding a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the Constitution, they must consider, and I hope they are, that they will be effectively opening the door for the criminalization of religious beliefs, especially Christian beliefs.”

Later in the interview, Scott and Diaz agreed that LGBT rights victories in the courts amount to, in Diaz’s words, a “transformation of the form of government we have.”

Pointing to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comment that it wouldn’t take “a large adjustment” for Americans to adapt to same-sex marriage, Diaz said she is planning to wave a “magic wand and declare that the country’s ready now to move to same-sex marriage.”

“And in a few years, when the country’s ready for polygamy, then the country’s ready for that also, and we continue down that track to anything that the majority of us agree about. It’s just preposterous,” he added.

Brian Brown: Marriage Equality, Like Slavery And Segregation, 'Cannot Stand'

National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown joined Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott on her radio program last week, where the two discussed the upcoming Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

Brown told Scott that a pro-equality decision would be “illegitimate” and anti-LGBT groups would have to emulate the anti-choice movement after Roe and “build a movement that continues to stand and proclaim the truth.”

He compared a potential marriage equality decision to infamous Supreme Court rulings upholding the Fugitive Slave Act, the prohibition on citizenship for African Americans, and school desegregation.

“It may be a generation or two down the line, but this lie about what it means to be a human being cannot stand. It cannot stand,” he said. “And just because the Supreme Court says it’s so, it doesn’t make it so. The Supreme Court has had horrible decisions in the past, horrible decisions like the Dred Scott decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Fugitive Slave Act, Roe v. Wade. Just because the Supreme Court said it was so didn’t make it so, and there was an obligation for people living in those times to stand up and say ‘no this is wrong’ and to fight with every ounce of their being for the truth.”

He added that the movement would have to contend with “some weakness from Republican leaders on the marriage issue.”

Earlier in the interview, Scott asked Brown about the decision to approve hormone therapy for Chelsea Manning, which Scott joked was part of a “witness protection program.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that once you redefine what it means, or attempt to redefine what it means to be a man and a woman, then this clearly is the next step,” Brown responded. “And I don’t think people, at times we may not think deeply about what we’re being asked to accept, especially on the issue of same-sex marriage, but what we’re essentially being asked to accept is the very deconstruction of what it means to be a mother and father, husband and wife, and what it means to be a human being.”

“And once you go down this road of acting as if the biological reality of mothers and fathers, husbands and wives doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist, then the next step is to say that gender itself is a construct. And we’re seeing that across the country, the next step on quote-unquote ‘transgender rights,’” he said.

He added that transgender rights measures would have "profound consequences" that are being seen "across the country."

Roy Moore: Ban Gay Marriage To Keep Bisexuals And 'Transgendered' From Marrying Multiple People

Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore doesn’t seem to quite understand the LGBT community that he is so set against, telling the Associated Press this weekend that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, bisexual and “transgendered” people will then demand to marry two people each. “Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you've got a family of four or how many?" he asked:

Moore argues that no federal court, even the U.S. Supreme Court, has the right to define marriage.

"You're taking any definition of a family away. When two bisexuals or two transgendered marry, how large is that family? Can they marry two persons, one of the same sex and one of the opposite sex? Then, you've got a family of four or how many?"

Moore also resisted comparisons of his standoff with the federal courts over marriage equality to former Gov. George Wallace’s stand against desegregation, saying that one major difference is that Wallace eventually backed down, and he won’t:

Moore's actions have drawn inevitable comparisons to former Gov. George Wallace's 1963 largely symbolic "stand in the schoolhouse door" aimed at preventing desegregation at the University of Alabama, nine years after education segregation was ruled illegal.

Moore said there is another difference.

"George Wallace moved," he said, noting how the former governor eventually stepped aside.

"I can't move from my position because I'm bound to uphold the Constitution," Moore said.

Matt Barber: States Should Defy Roe And Jail Abortion Providers

Matt Barber joined Steve Deace on his radio program yesterday to discuss the actions of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who’s urging judges in his state to defy a federal judge and refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

Barber told Deace that whether or not the United States Supreme Court has “the authority to redefine the institution of marriage, which cannot be done, it’s contrary to reality to say that it’s anything other than the male and female,” Moore is on “solid legal ground” in claiming that the Alabama Supreme Court takes precedence over the federal district court that issued the marriage ruling.

Deace asked Barber why the conservative movement was less willing to defy the federal courts during Judge Moore’s 2003 standoff over placing a Ten Commandments monument in his courthouse or after Roe v. Wade, “when the court said, ‘We’re going to start just massacring, dismembering little innocent babies.’”

Barber agreed that states should have simply ignored the court’s ruling in Roe: “Why, back when the courts issued their ridiculous, non-scientific ruling in Roe v. Wade, why didn’t states like Texas and other states say, ‘Okay, well thank you for your opinion, but nope, here in the state of Texas, you kill an unborn child, you’ve committed murder, we’re going to throw you in jail for it’?”

Later in the interview, Deace repeated his prediction that a sweeping marriage ruling would ignite an even greater culture war battle than Roe did.

Barber agreed, saying the “goal all along” of the “sin-based, sodomy-based marriage” movement has been to persecute Christians.

“Religious liberty and so-called gay marriage cannot coexist in harmony,” he said. “If the Supreme Court goes Roe v. Wade on this decision and divines a new-fangled right to sin-based, sodomy-based marriage, Christians will be being persecuted across the country. They will be told, ‘You either put your stamp of approval on sin or you will be pushed to the fringes and marginalized and you will not be able to carry a job or function in society.’ That’s been their goal all along anyway.”

Tony Perkins: Marriage Equality Rulings Will Throw 'Our Country Into A Tailspin'

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins spent a good portion of his “Washington Watch” radio program on Monday praising Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and the state probate judges who are refusing to follow a federal court order legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

Perkins said that he, too, is “not going to listen to these courts that are wrong” when they make a ruling that is “inconsistent with nature itself, certainly inconsistent with scripture.”

The federal courts, he added, “are setting themselves up to lose credibility and put, I believe, our country into a tailspin.”

What is the rule of law? In a free society, a democratic society, the rule of law is generated, over all, [by the] Constitution and general consensus. We agree. And when you go too far out, which this administration has and these courts are, it doesn’t work. An unjust law is no law at all.

And they are setting themselves up to lose credibility and put, I believe, our country into a tailspin. Because I’m not going to listen to these courts that are wrong, when they have taken away the rights of the people and just imposed upon this nation a viewpoint that is not shared by a majority of the people. Even if it was, it’s inconsistent with nature itself, certainly inconsistent with scripture.

Tony Perkins Regrets Direct Election Of Senators Because It Led To Gay Marriage

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who was once a candidate for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, seems upset that voters can directly elect their state’s two senators, a power that was held by state legislatures until the adoption of the 17th Amendment in 1913. Speaking on his radio program yesterday, Perkins called the amendment “one of the first places we got off in terms of how our government is functioning,” lamenting that “senators are no longer accountable to the states.”

Having voters instead of state lawmakers elect senators, Perkins lamented, “had a drastic impact upon judicial appointees that the Senate has signed off on that overturned state laws, like we’ve seen this rash of overturning these state marriage amendments, that never would’ve happened if these senators who approved these judges were still held accountable to state legislatures.”

Maybe the drafters of the 17th Amendment were just playing the long game for the radical homosexual agenda.

Ted Cruz Vows to Damage Texas Courts in Response to Obama's Immigration Action

In response to President Obama's upcoming action on immigration, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has vowed to retaliate by sabotaging the federal court system in his own state.

No, that's not how he phrased it, but that would be the impact of his vow. Yesterday in Politico, Cruz wrote how he thinks the Senate should respond to the president's policy decisions on immigration enforcement:

If the president announces executive amnesty, the new Senate majority leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress will not confirm a single nominee—executive or judicial—outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists.

While such a refusal to perform one of the basic functions of the Senate would harm the entire nation, the damage in Texas would be particularly severe. No state has more judicial vacancies than the Lone Star State. No state even comes close.

As of today, Texas is suffering from eleven current federal court vacancies, with another four known to be opening in the next few months. The White House has worked closely with Sens. Cruz and Cornyn to identify potential nominees, but progress has been slow: Only six of the vacancies even have nominees; three of these have not yet had their committee hearings.

But the other three – for the Eastern and Western Districts – advanced through the Judiciary Committee this morning and are now ready for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. All three would fill vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Confirming them would be a good start at addressing the vacancy crisis in Texas.

And that's what is it: a crisis. As we wrote earlier this month in a Huffington Post piece entitled Lame Duck Opportunity and Obligation: Confirm Judges:

The situation is even more dire in Texas, where the Senate has a chance to fill three vacancies in the Eastern and Western Districts. The Western District judgeship has been vacant since 2008, and the Judicial Conference has asked for five new judgeships there to carry the load on top of filling all the existing vacancies. Chief Judge Fred Biery discussed the need for new judges last year, saying, "It would be nice to get some help. We are pedaling as fast as we can on an increasingly rickety bicycle." Judge David Ezra, formerly of Hawaii, explained why he was moving to Texas to hear cases in the Western District: "This is corollary to having a big wild fire in the Southwest Border states, and fire fighters from Hawaii going there to help put out the fire."

The Eastern District of Texas is in similar need of getting its vacancies filled during the lame duck: Of the nation's 94 federal districts, only two have had more weighted filings per judgeship than the Eastern District, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts' most recent statistics. Small wonder, then, that the Judicial Conference has asked for two new judgeships there: Even if every judgeship were filled, that just isn't enough. To make matters worse, two more judges in the Eastern District have announced their intention to retire or take senior status next year, making it all the more important to fill the current vacancies now.

Even if the three nominees are confirmed during the lame duck, as they should be, more vacancies in both of those districts will open up early next year. Texas would still have eight vacancies, a number that would rise to twelve in the next few months.

To express his fury at President Obama and rally his right-wing base, Cruz would work to make sure that all these vacancies remain unfilled, which would hurt a lot of innocent Texans.

Cross-posted from the PFAW blog.

Schlafly: GOP Senate's First Priority Should Be Blocking All Judicial Nominees

In a post-election interview with WorldNetDaily — “It’s a terribly important election, and I’m thrilled with it because it’s almost as big as our Republican victory in 1946” — conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly insisted that the first priority of the new GOP-controlled Senate should be to block every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees:

Now Schlafly said it’s time for the new Republican majority to get to work by stopping President Obama from packing the judicial system with his preferred judges.

“I think the most important job of the Republican Senate is to defeat or reject, or not even take up, any of Obama’s court nominees,” she said. “He’s already put too many liberals on the court, and we don’t want any more.”

Last year, the Senate lowered the vote threshold for ending most judicial filibusters after Republicans had abused the process to routinely block even noncontroversial, bipartisan nominees.

Koch Group Jumps Into Montana Supreme Court Race

The American Constitution Society has just released a big report on the effects of post-Citizens United spending on judicial elections, specifically finding that judges who survive expensive, ad-heavy elections are “less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants.”

As it happens, an example of what happens when big outside spending groups take an interest in state judicial elections is unfolding right now in Montana.

We’ve been following how Religious Right and pro-corporate groups have been getting involved in a Montana state supreme court race, in which a former solicitor general with a right-wing record is trying to topple a sitting justice and flip the ideological balance of the court.

Last month, the anti-gay, anti-choice  Family Research Council raised money for challenger Lawrence VanDyke at a Values Voter Summit fundraiser. A couple of weeks later, a Montana offshoot of the Republican State Leadership Committee — an outside spending group bankrolled by corporations including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries dropped $110,000 on TV ads attacking VanDyke’s opponent, Justice Mike Wheat.

And now, according to the Missoulan, not only has the RSLC now spent $330,000 supporting VanDyke’s candidacy, but it has been joined in the fight by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that has since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision spent millions of dollars to influence elections.

AFP is spending $85,000 running ads that accuse Wheat of being an “extreme” partisan…citing his votes on bipartisan bills as a state legislator. In an interview with the Missoulan, Wheat called the ads “garbage”:

The ads say Wheat, a justice on Montana’s high court since 2010, “has a history of supporting extreme, partisan measures,” citing his votes as a state senator for a 2003 sales tax package and for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in 2005, and his 2012 dissent in a Supreme Court ruling upholding natural gas well permits.

“Our (intent) is to educate voters on the positions that Mike Wheat has taken in the past and hold him accountable for those positions,” Lahn said.

Wheat, in an interview, called the ad “garbage” and said it has little or nothing to do with the type of a justice he’s been or will be.

The ad sponsor “is just one of the Super-PACs funded by the Koch Brothers, who want you to believe it’s only for `educational’ purposes,” Wheat said. “It’s not education at all; it’s pure politics.”

In addition to $275,000 combined that Wheat and VanDyke have reported raising for their campaigns, the race has seen spending now by four outside groups, including AFP-Montana.

Two other groups are supporting VanDyke, including the Republican State Leadership Committee, which reported Thursday it’s spent $330,000 on TV ads and mailers, and one group is supporting Wheat.

Lahn said AFP-Montana initially is spending $85,000 for its ads criticizing Wheat.

...

The AFP ad says Montanans “deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court” and urge voters to call Wheat “and tell him to keep his extreme politics out of the Montana Supreme Court.”

Among other things, the ad refers to Wheat’s 2003 vote as a senator for a sales tax package that also reduced property and income taxes, and his 2005 vote for a bill increasing hunting and fishing license fees.

The sales tax measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support but died in the House; the hunting and fishing license bill passed with bipartisan support.

Mark Creech 'Heartbroken' By 'Terrible Tragedy' And 'Atrocity' Of Marriage Equality In North Carolina

Mark Creech, director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, wrote in the Christian Post yesterday that he was “heart-broken” (sic) by the federal court decision striking down North Carolina’s marriage equality ban, calling the decision “a terrible tragedy — an evil  — an injustice in our day.”

Creech took some comfort, however, from this month’s lunar eclipse, during which God told him that things will get better. “God makes all things beautiful in its appropriate time,” he writes, including “even death, war, killing, the escalation of wickedness, and yes, even the atrocity of legalizing same-sex marriage.”

October 10th marks the infamous day for the Tar Heel state. Judge Max O. Cogburn in Asheville declared in accord with a 4th Circuit Court ruling that North Carolina's marriage amendment was unconstitutional. The decision was not only egregious, but an act of judicial supremacy. I readily admit I was heart-broken, but it wasn't as though I was altogether unprepared.

The Lord had spoken to my heart two days before Cogburn ever slammed down his gavel. With the Supreme Court's inaction and what it would mean heavily on my mind, I awakened about 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 8th, and couldn't go back to sleep. Restless, I got up and piddled about the house and made myself an early breakfast. I noticed the local television news was reporting a lunar eclipse was taking place. I thought to myself, "I want to see that." So, in my pajamas and housecoat, I made my way outside to see this glorious display in the heavens. I must say the sight of it was other-worldly, awesome, and even breathtaking.

Then, while watching the earth's shadow fall across the moon's surface, I heard the sweetness of God's voice. "See Mark," the Lord said, "the light may be eclipsed for a time, but be assured the light of God always returns to shine."

To all of my friends and colleagues in North Carolina and other states negatively impacted by the US Supreme Court's indecision – a choice that opened the door for gay marriage in 11 more states. Let me say that if you've been like me, confused, depressed, and sometimes even angry at the recent turning of events, then take a lesson from the lunar eclipse: "The light may be eclipsed for a time, but be assured the light of God always returns to shine."

What has happened is a terrible tragedy – an evil – an injustice in our day. But God makes all things beautiful in its appropriate time, meaning even death, war, killing, the escalation of wickedness, and yes, even the atrocity of legalizing same-sex marriage. God turns it. He makes it all work beautifully to accomplish His purposes in the end. We may not understand it. Nevertheless, He remains lovingly sovereign over it. We can trust Him in all things.

The light may indeed be eclipsed for a while, but the brightness of God's light will always return to shine.

Family Research Council, Anti-Gay and Anti-Choice Activists, Pitch In For Montana Supreme Court Race

Last week, we reported on the quiet effort of national right-wing groups to, in the words of the Family Research Council, “flip” the Supreme Court of Montana by electing former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke, who has indicated that he will be friendly to business interests and social conservative causes.

We first heard of VanDyke’s campaign for the officially nonpartisan office at last month’s Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council’s political action committee had decided to highlight the race at a $100-a-head fundraiser featuring Rick Santorum, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a number of Republican members of Congress.

Yesterday, VanDyke’s campaign issued its fundraising report for the period that included the FRC fundraiser. In the period, the campaign brought in $48,000, nearly doubling its supply of cash. It’s impossible to tell how much of that came from the FRC’s fundraiser — much of it came from Montana residents and out-of-state attorneys  but  FRC’s impact is shown in a few notable contributions.

The FRC Action PAC itself contributed $320 to VanDyke’s campaign, the maximum contribution allowed so far. William Saunders, the top lawyer at the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, also contributed $320, while Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom contributed $200. An organizer for the Koch group Americans for Prosperity also kicked in $200.

Although we can’t know the impact of the FRC’s fundraiser — and we can't know for sure that these contributions stemmed from the event   these numbers illustrate the fact that in VanDyke, Corporate Right and Religious Right activists throughout the country have found common cause in a little-noticed but pivotal state court race.

Right Quietly Pours Money Into Montana, Hoping To 'Flip' Pivotal State Supreme Court

Conservative legal advocates from throughout the country have been quietly pouring money into a Montana state supreme court race, hoping to topple a court majority that has bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on campaign finance issues and could soon have a voice in cases with national implications involving abortion rights and LGBT equality.

The Right’s chosen candidate is Lawrence VanDyke, a former state solicitor general with a perfect pedigree for pro-corporate and Religious Right donors. Not only has VanDyke indicated his support for the U.S. Supreme Court’s dismantling of campaign finance laws and lamented that the current Montana high court is insufficiently “pro-business,” but, in his position as solicitor general, steered the state government toward taking positions against abortion rights, marriage equality and gun restrictions in other states.

What's more, in his writings as a law student, VanDyke was unguarded in his social conservative views, fretting about same-sex marriage, endorsing discredited “ex-gay” therapy and defending the teaching of anti-scientific “Intelligent Design” in public schools.

The Right Sees An Opportunity In Montana

At last month’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, the Family Research Council’s political action committee hosted a private $100-a-head reception featuring conservative luminaries including Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, GOP congressmen Steve King, Vicky Hartzler and Mark Meadows, and congressional candidate Dave Brat of Virginia, who unseated former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in an upset primary election this year.

A flyer for the event announced that along with those national Republican politicians, FRC would be “showcasing a very important State Supreme Court candidate, Lawrence VanDyke of Montana, who we hope can flip the court in that state.”

VanDyke’s presence on the fundraiser’s roster was telling. As FRC’s flyer made clear, a VanDyke victory would change the ideological balance on a court that has been a thorn in the side of opponents of campaign finance reform and could soon be facing nationally watched cases on abortion rights and marriage equality.

VanDyke has not yet submitted a campaign finance report showing how much money, if any, FRC was able to bundle for him at the fundraiser, and his campaign did not respond to our inquiry about whether he was personally present at the Values Voter event. But a review of VanDyke’s campaign finance reports shows that his candidacy has attracted keen interest from out-of-state donors, including some of the country’s leading conservative legal activists.

[UPDATE: VanDyke's Oct. 20 fundraising report revealed some of the contributions from FRC and its allies.]

Since filing for the race to unseat sitting Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat in March, VanDyke has raised about $78,000, more than one-third of which — roughly $29,000 — has come from 114 individual out-of-state donors. By contrast, Wheat has raised just under $85,000 for his reelection bid, only $1,100 of which came from just five out-of-state donors.

Among those who have contributed to VanDyke’s campaign are recognizable names in conservative legal circles. Kelly Shackelford, president of the right-wing legal group Liberty Institute (a major sponsor of the Values Voter Summit) contributed $100, while another top Liberty Institute official, Hiram Sasser, gave $320, the maximum gift allowable as of VanDyke's last fundraising report. Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a Harvard Law School classmate of VanDyke’s, and her husband Roger also each maxed out with $320 contributions. Thomas Spence, an official at the conservative Regnery publishing house also sent the maximum contribution to VanDyke’s campaign. Two employees of the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom have together contributed $370. Christopher Murray, a lawyer who served on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, also contributed $320.

Nearly $7,000 of VanDyke’s contributions have come from employees of the law firm Gibson Dunn, where Vandyke worked before entering public service. That includes $320 each from Theodore Olson, the conservative attorney argued the Citizens United case (but who has become better known as a marriage equality advocate), and controversial Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada. VanDyke’s campaign also received $320 each from Eugene Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and a Wall Street reform-buster in his own right — and his wife.

Montana’s Cowgirl Blog notes that prominent Montana social conservatives Greg and Susan Gianforte — who fund creationist efforts and support anti-gay policies — have also each contributed the maximum amount to VanDyke’s campaign. He has also received the maximum contribution from the Montana Gas & Oil PAC and — in the form of an in-kind gift of catering — from the PAC’s treasurer, Dave Galt.

Cowgirl Blog also notes that VanDyke got a major assist last month from a newly created group called Montanans for a Fair Judiciary, which sent a statewide mailer in favor of his candidacy. The group, which was registered last month, is staffed by a former Montana GOP official and a corporate lobbyist for oil and gas clients, among others.

And just last week, a Washington, D.C.-based group called the Republican State Leadership Committee Judicial Fairness Montana PAC — an offshoot a national group funded by big business interests including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries — bought $110,000 worth of television ads supporting VanDyke and slamming Wheat as soft on crime. The group has also been mailing out leaflets accusing Wheat of siding with “environmental extremists.”

All of this attention from national activists and corporate backers has caught the attention of a group of six retired Montana Supreme Court justices, who signed a letter last week calling VanDyke an “unqualified corporate lawyer,” adding, "Given [his] background, Mr. VanDyke is an excellent corporate pick although that is obviously not good news for Montanans.”

MTN News reported:

The letter from the judges notes that VanDyke has received the maximum allowable campaign contributions from numerous out-of-state lawyers who represent major corporations, including more than 20 at the Gibson firm - including at least one who represented Citizens United.

"Corporations are buying judicial races because they want judges who will not hold them accountable," the draft letter from the retired justices says. "If the disinformation they are spreading successfully manipulates Montanans into electing an unqualified corporate lawyer, we will lose our fair and impartial court."

‘Changing The Face of the Montana Supreme Court’

While VanDyke’s personal connections seem to behind quite a bit of his financial support from out-of-state conservative leaders, his featured spot at the Values Voter Summit hints that the conservative legal movement and the Religious Right see an opportunity in his candidacy.

Montana conservatives have made no secret of their desire to pack the state Supreme Court with justices in their ideological mold. Last year, the Great Falls Tribune published leaked emails between conservative Republicans in the state senate discussing a “long term strategy” for displacing more moderate Republicans in the state legislature and “changing the face of the Montana Supreme Court.”

One lawmaker wrote of the need to “purge” the party of moderates, after which “a new phoenix will rise from the ashes.”

In 2012, Montana conservatives were able to elect the likeminded Laurie McKinnon to the state Supreme Court thanks in part to a dark money group called the “Montana Growth Network” run by a Republican state senator that spent at least $42,000 on her campaign — more than the candidate spent herself. The “Montanans for a Fair Judiciary” group that has been campaigning for VanDyke is linked to the firm that was employed by the “Montana Growth Network” to boost McKinnon.

National conservative groups have good reason to take an interest in the race as well.

Montana’s Supreme Court gained national attention in 2011 when it bucked the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue of campaign finance regulation, ruling that the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United did not invalidate Montana’s century-old ban on corporate spending in elections. The 5-2 decision, in which Justice Wheat joined the majority, openly defied the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling. One of the two dissenting justices wrote that the state court must follow the high court’s precedent but used the opportunity to excoriate the Supreme Court for its Citizens United logic. On appeal, the Supreme Court summarily reversed Montana’s opinion, ending the state’s corporate spending ban.

Montana’s Supreme Court may soon also be in the center of the legal debates on same-sex marriage and abortion rights. State anti-choice groups have indicated that they might challenge Montana’s abortion clinic buffer-zone bill in the wake of the Supreme Court’s striking down of a similar bill in Massachusetts. In addition, marriage equality cases are working their way through both state and federal courts in Montana.

A Movement Candidate

Although Montana’s judicial elections are ostensibly nonpartisan, VanDyke’s resume makes him seemingly a perfect candidate for conservative activists hoping to drag the state's high court to the right. At Harvard Law School, VanDyke was active in the conservative Federalist Society and wrote an article for the school’s law review favorably reviewing a book arguing for allowing public schools to teach anti-scientific Intelligent Design.

In an article for another school publication, VanDyke lamented that courts in Canada had been “forcing same-sex marriage on the populace” and warned of a “trend of intolerance towards religion as homosexual ‘rights’ become legally entrenched.” In the same article, he cited a study supporting debunked “ex-gay” therapy to support the “view that homosexuals can leave the homosexual lifestyle.” (The author of that study has since recanted.)

After graduating from law school, VanDyke clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, perhaps the most stridently conservative of that court’s activist pro-corporate wing, known for her extreme opposition to government regulation and her writing of a prequel to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. After a stint at Gibson Dunn, VanDyke became an assistant solicitor general in Texas and was named solicitor general of Montana early last year.

In public statements, VanDyke has indicated that he would have sided with the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United, defending the decision in a debate last month. And although his race is officially nonpartisan, VanDyke has made it very clear which side of the aisle he falls on, accusing his opponent of judging “like a liberal Democrat” and being “results-oriented” in his rulings — a loaded accusation favored by conservative activists.

VanDyke has also hinted that he would be more favorable to business interests on the court, touting an endorsement from the Montana Chamber of Commerce and saying, “I don’t think anybody who follows our court thinks it’s a pro-business court.” On his website, he backs efforts to “produce and preserve” natural resources, which he contrasts with his opponent's siding with preservationists in a dispute over drilling gas wells. In September, he spoke at a “Coal Appreciation Day” sponsored by a coal industry group.

VanDyke’s website also touts his support for the death penalty and an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment, noting his work as state solicitor general defending a bill that would have invalidated federal firearms regulations on weapons manufactured and kept in Montana. (The law was ultimately struck down in federal court). In that position, VanDyke also pushed for Montana signing on to Alabama briefs in favor of overturning semiautomatic weapon bans in New York and Connecticut. At the time, he bantered over email with Alabama’s solicitor general, Andrew Brasher, about shooting elk with semi-automatic firearms, attaching a picture of himself hunting with “the same gun used by the Navy Seals.”

Ultimately, Montana signed on to both briefs, and VanDyke evidently made a useful connection as well: This year, Brasher contributed the maximum amount to his Supreme Court campaign.

VanDyke recently announced that he had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

In his role as solicitor general, VanDyke also worked on efforts to oppose same-sex marriage and abortion rights, including signing on to amicus briefs filed in other states.

VanDyke, meanwhile, is running on the message that he will follow “the law, not politics” and accusing Justice Wheat of being overly partisan. In the same interview in which he lamented that the current state supreme court was unfavorable to business interests, he said, “I have not promised anybody that I’m going to be a pro-business judge or that I’m going to be a conservative judge...I’m going to be a fair and balanced judge.”

Judicial Elections Draw More And More Big Money

Last year, Justice at Stake reported on the fast increase of spending in judicial elections, leading to judicial races seeming “alarmingly indistinguishable from ordinary political campaigns” and blurring “the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law.”

Part of this increase was attributable to the 2010 Citizens United decision, which allowed outside groups to spend unlimited amounts supporting and opposing candidates. In the case of judicial elections, those candidates could be the ones deciding on the future of that very campaign spending.

It’s no wonder that the corporate right and the Religious Right have joined forces to back VanDyke’s candidacy. A little-noticed nonpartisan race in Montana could prove to be an effective long-term investment for a movement that’s trying to solidify a pro-corporate grip on the courts and win back lost legal ground abortion rights and LGBT equality.

This post has been updated to clarify the status of marriage equality cases in Montana.

Huckabee Urges States To Ignore Rulings On Marriage Equality, Abortion Rights & Church-State Separation

In an interview with Iowa-based conservative talk show host Steve Deace on Monday, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee repeated his recommendation that governors simply ignore the Supreme Court’s decision to let stand lower court rulings legalizing marriage equality in several new states, adding that state governments should have also ignored Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court rulings banning school-sponsored prayer.

When Deace pressed him on the “maelstrom” that would be set off if state governments simply ignored court rulings on marriage, Huckabee responded that it was in fact the courts that have set off a “constitutional crisis” by ruling in favor of marriage equality.

“I look back to 1973,” he said, referring to the year in which Roe v. Wade was decided, “and I’m wondering what would have happened if the two branches of government, the executive and the legislative, simply said, ‘We appreciate your opinion, court, but now if states wish to empower that, I guess they can do so, but until that happens we’re not automatically going to go killing 55 million babies over the next 40 years.’”

In cases such as Roe and rulings in favor of marriage equality and church-state separation, Huckabee said, elected officials should have said, “Well, the courts have spoken and it’s an important voice, but it’s not the voice of God and the Supreme Court isn’t God” and simply ignored the courts’ rulings.

Earlier in the interview, Deace insisted that a drop in support for LGBT rights reported in a recent Pew poll happened because “people are seeing this really isn’t about consensual love…this is really about in the end using the coercive force of government to get you to abandon your own moral conscience.”

Huckabee agreed, adding, “It’s never been an honest situation where those who were advocating the most extreme levels of changing our culture were sincere and straightforward and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of it.”

He added his hope that in reaction to yesterday’s Supreme Court decision, “somewhere there will be a governor who will simply say, ‘No, I’m not going to enforce that’” and order county clerks not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Look Who Wants To Amend The Constitution Now: Ted Cruz Wants States' Rights Amendment on Marriage

Sen. Ted Cruz has spent the past several months railing against a proposed constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related campaign-finance cases, which would restore to Congress and the states the ability to “set reasonable limits” on election spending.

Cruz has gone into full hyperbole mode over the amendment, claiming that the campaign to narrowly roll back what many legal experts believe is an erroneous interpretation of the First Amendment is in fact an effort to “repeal the First Amendment,silence pastors and imprison old ladies.

So, of course, it was no surprise at all yesterday to see Cruz himself proposing to amend the Constitution to reverse what he sees as an erroneous interpretation by the courts, this time on the issue of marriage. Roll Call reported on Cruz’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s "tragic" decision yesterday to decline hearing any marriage equality appeals, thus letting same-sex couples in several states get married:

While most Republicans shied away from commenting Monday on the Supreme Court’s historic decision to let stand a slew of lower court rulings legalizing gay marriage, Sen. Ted Cruz torched the court’s decision.

The Texas Republican called the decision “tragic and indefensible” and said he would introduce a constitutional amendment that would ensure states can ban gay marriage.

“By refusing to rule if the States can define marriage, the Supreme Court is abdicating its duty to uphold the Constitution. The fact that the Supreme Court Justices, without providing any explanation whatsoever, have permitted lower courts to strike down so many state marriage laws is astonishing,” he said in a statement.

“It is beyond dispute that when the 14th Amendment was adopted 146 years ago, as a necessary post-Civil War era reform, it was not imagined to also mandate same-sex marriage, but that is what the Supreme Court is implying today. The Court is making the preposterous assumption that the People of the United States somehow silently redefined marriage in 1868 when they ratified the 14th Amendment,” he said.

“Nothing in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the 14th Amendment or any other constitutional provision authorizes judges to redefine marriage for the Nation. It is for the elected representatives of the People to make the laws of marriage, acting on the basis of their own constitutional authority, and protecting it, if necessary, from usurpation by the courts.”

For the record, here is the section of the 14th Amendment that courts have been relying on to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Holding The Religious Right To Its Own Standard

A few weeks ago, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was speaking to students at the University of Minnesota Law School when she made the rather straightforward observation that if 6th Circuit Court of Appeals follows other recent court decisions and strikes down gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, then the prospects of the Supreme Court taking up the issue of marriage equality would be less likely in the near term.

The reasoning behind this statement is that if appellate courts consistently strike down such bans, then the Supreme Court will not need to get involved right away whereas, if the 6th Circuit were to uphold such bans, that would create a conflict among recent appellate rulings and so, as Ginsburg said, "there will be some urgency" for the Supreme Court to take up with issue in order to address those conflicting rulings.

There is nothing controversial or improper about this obvious observation, but anti-gay Religious Right groups have seized upon it to launch a campaign demanding that Ginsburg recuse herself from any Supreme Court case involving the issue of marriage equality on the grounds that she has violated the Judicial Code of Conduct by "making public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action."

As Liberty Counsel, which first launched this effort, declared:

“In casting a vote publicly before the case is even heard, Justice Ginsburg has violated the Judicial Code of Conduct,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “It is now her duty to recuse herself from cases involving same-sex marriage.”

According to Canon 2 of the Judicial Code of Conduct, “A judicial employee should not lend the prestige of the office to advance or to appear to advance the private interests of others.”

Canon 3(D) declares, “A judicial employee should avoid making public comment on the merits of a pending or impending action.”

“Justice Ginsburg’s comments implied that the merits of the state constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man and one woman were such that the Supreme Court would have to overturn them with haste, if upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Staver. “This is an inappropriate comment for any judicial employee, much less a Supreme Court Justice!”

The call has since been echoed by the Foundation for Moral Law, Faith 2 Action, and the American Family Association, where Bryan Fischer and former Liberty Counsel attorney Steve Crampton recently discussed the need for right-wing activists to "beat on our pots" in order to create so much political pressure on Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan that they have no choice but to recuse themselves from any such cases.

In fact, just yesterday, Fischer wrote a column arguing that Ginsburg and Kagan would be "committing a federal crime" if they did not recuse themselves:

The Supreme Court will, perhaps even in this session, take up the issue of sodomy-based marriage. If it does, justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan will have an obligation to step off the bench for those cases on the grounds that their impartiality has been severely compromised.

Both have performed sodomy-based “wedding” ceremonies. Kagan performed her first one on September 22 of this year, and Ginsburg has done the deed multiple times, including at least one in the Supreme Court building itself. Thus they have clearly tipped their hand by their actions as well as their words. They have publicly demonstrated that their minds are already made up on the issue. It is inconceivable that either of them now would vote against the “marriages” they themselves have solemnized. They would stand self-condemned.

...

[T]he necessity for Kagan and Ginsburg to recuse is not just a matter of fairness or rightness. It’s also a matter of law. They have a statutory obligation to recuse. If they refuse to step off the bench when and if marriage cases come before them, they would be breaking federal law. They would be, from a strictly legal standpoint, committing a federal crime. Their sacred responsibility is to uphold the law, not break it.

So it was with great interest that we read this article in The Washington Times yesterday reporting on remarks made by Justice Antonin Scalia at Colorado Christian University in which he stated that the separation of church and state is "utterly absurd" and the idea that the government must remain neutral on the issue of religion is "just a lie":

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Wednesday that secularists are wrong when they argue the Constitution requires religious references to be banished from the public square.

Justice Scalia, part of the court’s conservative wing, was preaching to the choir when he told the audience at Colorado Christian University that a battle is underway over whether to allow religion in public life, from referencing God in the Pledge of Allegiance to holding prayers before city hall meetings.

“I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said.

“That’s a possible way to run a political system. The Europeans run it that way,” Justice Scalia said. “And if the American people want to do it, I suppose they can enact that by statute. But to say that’s what the Constitution requires is utterly absurd.”

...

“We do him [God] honor in our pledge of allegiance, in all our public ceremonies,” Justice Scalia said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. It is in the best of American traditions, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I think we have to fight that tendency of the secularists to impose it on all of us through the Constitution.”

The biggest danger lies with judges who interpret the Constitution as a malleable document that changes with the times, he said.

“Our [the court‘s] latest take on the subject, which is quite different from previous takes, is that the state must be neutral, not only between religions, but between religion and nonreligion,” Justice Scalia said. “That’s just a lie. Where do you get the notion that this is all unconstitutional? You can only believe that if you believe in a morphing Constitution.”

Given that Scalia was very clearly "making public comment" in a way that directly relates to a whole host of church-state separation questions that could potentially come before the Supreme Court at any time, we trust that these Religious Right groups will now demand that he recuse himself from any such cases as well, right?

North Carolina Religious Right Leader Blasts 'Despotism' And 'Tyranny' Of Pro-Equality Court Rulings

Last month, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that he would no longer defend the state’s marriage equality ban  because "there are really no arguments left to be made." 

This did not sit well with Mark Creech, executive director of the North Carolina Action League. In a Christian Post column yesterday, Creech attacked Cooper for “wimpishly” capitulating to “tyranny” and yielding to the “despotism” of “judicial totalitarians.”

By refusing to resist with every legal means possible, Cooper capitulates to a form of tyranny in our day. He abandons his post on the field of battle, throws up the white flag, stands in the very place of the state (a state that voted by 61% for the marriage amendment) and wimpishly replies to the 4th Circuit that North Carolina accepts their judgment and surrenders. Furthermore, he calls on the judges who will preside over the cases currently challenging the state's marriage amendment to stand down and yield to the despotism of two judicial totalitarians.

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