May 13, 2014
Last Friday, Judge Chris Piazza in Arkansas struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage, ruling it to be unconstitutional. On Saturday morning, several same-sex couples in Carroll County received marriage licenses. There is a question of whether the marriages will be valid if the state issues a stay on the judge’s decision.
The ruling came out of the state court system, and legal experts contend the judge wasn’t clear on whether the basis for his findings was the U.S. Constitution, the Arkansas Constitution, or both.
Distinguished Professor Ruthann Robson was consulted by the Los Angeles Times on her thoughts about the constitutionality of the case. She said:
“If it was entirely on state grounds, then the federal courts would not have jurisdiction or the power to overturn it. The ultimate arbiter of state constitution is state courts.”
Professor Robson also commented on Judge Piazza’s choice to bring up the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in his ruling.
“He invokes the most famous failure of the judiciary to protect minority rights, which most people think, if not led to the Civil War, was at least a catalyst for the Civil War,” Robson said.
Piazza is “saying that it’s up to the courts, and the consequences of not acting is social unrest, or war. He’s upping the stakes of the judge’s duty to act.”
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Prof. Robson is an expert on constitutional law and sexuality issues and is the co-editor of the Constitutional Law Professors Blog.