The Arkansas Supreme Court today again deferred ruling on the appeal of the decision invalidating state bans on same-sex marriage.
Instead, it asked for plaintiffs and the state to provide competing arguments on Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s motion that a new round of oral arguments be heard in the case completed Nov. 19 because of a change in personnel on the court.
The plaintiffs said there was no need for additional arguments and that the justices who heard the case should issue the opinion. The specific contention at this point is over Special Justice Robert McCorkindale, appointed by Gov. Mike Beebe to the case after then-Justice Cliff Hoofman recused. Hoofman’s term expired and Justice Rhonda Wood replaced him. The attorney general argued that Wood should hear the case as well as Robin Wynne, who replaced the retiring Justice Donald Corbin Jan. 1. Rutledge also noted that Chief Justice Jim Hannah was not present for the argument, but the court has said he reviewed a video of the arguments.
Since there are competing arguments on who should hear the case, the Supreme Court gave 30 days for a response.
This is, from a layman’s view, unconscionable. This case was heard on an expedited basis and decided at conference Nov. 20, with the opinion assigned to a justice on the prevailing side. There can be no doubt now that a faction on the court is attempting to string this case out as long as possible — whether to achieve a different vote from a new panel, to get a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court before they have to rule or simply from the petty infighting that apparently has become a fact of court life.
This moves the deadline for response to this motion to early March. If the push for oral arguments that seems to have been set up by Rutledge prevails, a date for those arguments would have to be set later. And that would be followed by a new deliberation and opinion period.
The U.S. Supreme Court should rule by June. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals may rule on an Arkansas case after a May hearing.
Justice delayed is justice denied. Confidence in this court? Certainly not the new members who seem to be driving this train.
Arguments are needed to decide who on the Supreme Court should hear the case? Do you really think the lawyers’ arguments will have any influence on what the members have already decided?
Judge Chris Piazza struck down the bans in May 2014. More than 500 couples were married. In addition to those married in other states seeking the full faith and credit of Arkansas law, the thousands who’d like to marry under the laws of the state, and those thousand people twisting in the wind of uncertain legality, there is a public at large that expects justice to be swifter and more certain. As I’ve said before, the Arkansas court can’t duck this case. There’s a question of Arkansas constitutional interpretation that must be answered no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules.
Even if Rhonda Wood works her way onto this case, it’s hard to see why she couldn’t decide it on the briefs and the previous oral argument. What’s new to be said or asked? The arguments are viewed by most lawyers as formalities anyway.
PS — A reader wonders who participated in this order? The whole court, as is customary. But which whole court? McCorkindale? Wood? Wynne? Who?
I asked. A court spokesman responded:
The court has no comment.