Arkansas Judge Does The Right Thing

7.19.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

Bush-appointee known for anti-abortion politics leaves gay case over "personal relationships."

Arkansas Federal Judge Leon Holmes recused himself recused himself from a marriage equality lawsuit because of his personal relationships with anti-gay activists.

In a letter sent last night, Holmes, appointed to Eastern Arkansas's District Court by George W. Bush in 2003, wrote, "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." Amendment 83 is the state's ban on gay marriage that three same-sex couples are suing to strike down.

"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 "issues" to which Holmes refers are largely about abortion. He gained notoriety in the 1980s for his crusades against abortion, including comparisons between pro-choicers and Nazis and a comment about rape victims and pregnancy that would put Todd "legitimate rape" Akin to shame.

Later, in 1997, he wrote in a Catholic magazine, "The wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.” Holmes apologized for those remarks, most likely because they were complicating an endangered Senate confirmation.

For all the talk about the judicial branch being apart from the political mudslinging and maneuvering, it's not. Some states elect their judges, others, like Holmes, are appointed for ideological alignment, and others, like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, have nebulous, seemingly symbiotic connections to concretely political groups and people. And Holmes himself has admitted that his faith influences his rulings. He even compared religious lawyers to Christ.

From Holmes's 2009 article, "What it means to be a lawyer of faith," via The Arkansas Times:

"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."

Holmes very well could have stayed on this case — he could have covertly let his conservative ties and beliefs guide his gavel, as even Supreme Court Justices have been known to do — but he chose to leave. He did the right thing and he stepped aside. That would probably never had happened if DOMA were still around.

The case, one of many such cases filed since DOMA's dismantlement, will now be heard by Judge Kristine Baker, an Obama appointee.

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