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Bondi's Pretending FL's Clerks of Court Exempt From US Constitution: That's Chutzpah


That’s what Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has. Not for accepting lavish vacations from the lobbyists who fund the Republican Attorneys General Association. No, that’s a whole ’nother column.

AG Bondi has the chutzpah to pretend, for the sake of politics, that Florida’s Clerks of Court are exempt from obeying the United States Constitution. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that it’s unconstitutional to deny gay couples marriage licenses in Florida. He made the ruling back in August, and issued a stay to give Bondi plenty of time to go up the chain and get his decision overturned.

She tried to stop gay marriage in Florida, but couldn’t do it, and she doesn’t have the political courage to admit it. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to continue the state’s block against gay marriage. After that, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear arguments regarding the stay, much less disturb the ruling.

The district court’s stay expires on January 5. Gay couples in Florida have been waiting for years for someone to tell them they have equal protection under the law, and that their rights should be recognized with full faith and credit all over the country. Judge Hinkle finally did. Bondi’s appeals failed, so gay couples should be able to obtain marriage certificates on January 6.

And that should be the end of it.

But it’s not.

The Washington County Clerk of Court has asked for clarification from Judge Hinkle, who in turn demanded that the state respond with its position before his deadline Monday. Veteran civil rights attorney Bill Sheppard, who practices from Jacksonville, has already reiterated the plaintiff’s position, which, as it turns out, mirrors the judge’s original ruling.

In stupefying feats of legal mendacity Bondi responded, while taking a bow toward the right-wing fringe. In their response, issued late Monday, Bondi’s delegates in the state solicitor general’s office clearly have picked up the torch against gay marriage.

In a statement unparalleled in its sheer caginess, Bondi at first declined to provide the state’s interpretation of the judge’s order. “This Court is best situated to determine the reach of its own order.”

But it’s grand political theater. Bondi in fact is signifying that even though the state doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on, she’s going to make a lot of noise and spend a lot of taxpayer money to show that she’s fighting a key partisan political battle.

As the Republican Party faithful in Florida line up for the Jeb-Bush-White-House gravy train, she won’t be left out. She’s banking her anti-gay creds now.

The first legal charade that Bondi’s office devised goes something like this: Since clerks of court are constitutionally elected officers, and since there is no arrow on the flow chart pointing directly at them from those in the state who oversee marriage and marriage licenses, then the clerks aren’t bound by the judge’s ruling.

(Hint: Pam, the U.S. Constitution points a big, fat, bold arrow at all of Florida’s state-constitutionally elected officers, and all the rest of us, too, for that matter.)

The second piece of outright spuriousness is the ridiculous notion that clerks of court could be prosecuted for issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, given our (illegal) state ban on gay marriage and statutes thereto appurtenant.

Remember, that very same ban was declared unconstitutional in August. If people in Bondi’s anti-gay-marriage camp wanted to sue county clerks to continue denying marriage licenses to gays and lesbians, the clerks would argue, simply, that those laws don’t apply anymore.

As of this writing, a conservative group has just filed suit to prevent public officials from officiating at same-sex weddings in Orange and Osceola counties. The group, Florida Family Action, was an organizing force behind Florida’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. They obviously haven’t gotten the memo on civil rights: Just because we vote on something doesn’t mean it’s constitutional. And when it comes to denying individual citizen rights that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, our votes don’t matter.

Said lawsuit shouldn’t get past a motion to dismiss. Any self-respecting member of the Florida Bar has to know this. Bondi has to know this.

She persists, however, in using state resources – and a lot of chutzpah – to force the judge to say what she doesn’t have the fortitude to admit: “It’s over. I lost.”

Julie Delegal, a University of Florida alumna, is a contributor for Folio Weekly, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly, and writes for the family business, Delegal Law Offices. She lives in Jacksonville. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

This piece was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

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