Commitment Ceremony Stalls Judicial Nominee

The Right has been pretty vocal recently, demanding that Republicans in the Senate hurry up and confirm as many judges as possible before the November election.  But when it comes to the nomination of Janet Neff, they are urging them to slow down

A judge’s elevation to the federal bench could be derailed because she helped preside over a commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple four years ago.

Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas has placed a hold on the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff, saying her presence at the 2002 Massachusetts ceremony raises questions about her judicial philosophy.

“It seems to speak about her view of judicial activism,” Brownback said Friday. “It’s something I want to inquire of her further.”

Brownback, a vehement opponent of gay marriage who has presidential ambitions, said he wants to know whether Neff might have presided over “an illegal marriage ceremony” that skirted Massachusetts law. He has asked the Justice Department for a formal legal opinion on Neff’s conduct.

Ceremonies marking the union of same-sex couples are usually symbolic events that carry no legal benefits and require no government approval. Massachusetts did not recognize gay marriages in 2002 but legalized same-sex marriage two years later after a ruling from its highest court.

Conservative activists expressed concerns about Neff after seeing her name in a September 2002 New York Times “Weddings/Celebrations” announcement. It said Neff led the commitment ceremony for Karen Adelman and Mary Curtin with the Rev. Kelly A. Gallagher, a minister of the United Church of Christ.

Both women are former employees of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign in Washington.

“When she did the commitment ceremony, she was doing it in her role as a judge, and that draws up a serious question,” said Tom McClusky, a spokesman for the Family Research Council, a conservative group. “She would be more sympathetic to an activist on the issue of homosexual marriage.”

The FRC’s claim that her presiding over such a ceremony  “draws up a serious question” is pretty ironic considering that they didn’t seem particularly concerned when William Pryor appeared in his capacity as Attorney General of Alabama to praise then Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore for his illegal display of the Ten Commandments, proclaiming

“God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time, this place for all Christians Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox to save our country and save our courts.”

Or when, again in his capacity as Attorney General, he called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history” or said “I will never forget Jan. 22, 1973, the day seven members of our highest court ripped the Constitution and ripped out the life of millions of unborn children.” 

According to the Right, calling a long-established Supreme Court precedent an “abomination” was no cause for concern about Pryor’s impartiality, and anyone who dared question it was accused of anti-Catholic bigotry.  But Neff’s presiding over a commitment ceremony is enough to stall her nomination and raise all sorts of “serious questions” about “judicial activism.”