Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy says public officials who do not wish to follow the Court’s marriage equality decision should either do their job or resign.
Kennedy, the author of June’s landmark marriage equality decision, made the comment during an appearance at Harvard Law School Thursday, in response to a question from a student in the audience.
The student asked Kennedy:
Would you say that there are any state or federal officials with authority to act according to her own judgment of the truth of new insights or of the soundness of the court’s constitutional interpretation, or would it be illegal for any federal official or state official to enforce or to act according to the old understanding of life and the Constitution that she still judges to be the truth of the matter?
Kennedy responded in a roundabout way by discussing the government of Adolf Hitler during Germany’s Third Reich, and alluding to the fact that very few judges resigned from the Nazi German government. In his answer, Kennedy expressed admiration for officials who do resign when asked to do something they find morally repugnant.
Great respect, it seems to me, has to be given to people who resign rather than do something they view as morally wrong, in order to make a point.
However, the rule of law is that, as a public official in performing your legal duties, you are bound to enforce the law.
In other words: Do your job or resign.
It should be noted that in the course of the discussion Kim Davis, the anti-gay Kentucky county clerk who said her religious beliefs will not allow her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and went to jail for defying a court order to do her job and issue said licenses, did not come up by name, nor did any of the other public officials around the nation who have similar objections to same-sex marriage.
However, the implication of Kennedy’s words for Davis and other anti-gay public officials cannot be ignored.
Bottom line: While Kennedy seems sympathetic to the dilemma Davis finds herself in while trying to reconcile her extreme religious beliefs with her duties as an elected public official, he makes it clear that public officials must do their duty and obey the law, or they must resign.
(H/T ThinkProgress. The exchange on the marriage equality decision begins around the 51-minute mark.)