The former county clerk in Kentucky who refused to give same-sex couples marriage licenses and was branded a civil rights scofflaw says the conservative-leaning Supreme Court has bolstered her legal fight to clear her name.
Lawyers for Kim Davis, who has been fending off civil lawsuits from same-sex couples seeking damages, argued that recent Supreme Court decisions give new life to her claim that she wasn’t liable for her actions as a government employee.
In their latest filing to an appeals court, they cited the Supreme Court’s recent pro-religious liberty decisions siding with a Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding, a high school coach who prayed on the football field and in favor of religious charities that refused to place foster kids in same-sex couples’ homes.
Ms. Davis’ lawyers contend the rulings produced “substantial developments in free exercise law.”
The legal arguments were made in a court filing this month with the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, where Ms. Davis is requesting the full court review of her appeal. The 6th Circuit now leans conservative after former President Trump appointed six judges to the bench.
“Consideration by the full Court is therefore necessary to overcome the prior panel’s conflicts and restore fidelity to Supreme Court […] precedents,” they wrote.
Facing lawsuits from same-sex couples, the former county clerk has been caught up in legal battles with the courts for roughly seven years.
Ms. Davis’ legal fight is still pending. Her most recent argument is that she should have had a religious exemption as a public official. Under that exemption, Ms. Davis would not have had to distribute a document in violation of her religious beliefs.
And Ms. Davis contends she shouldn’t be personally responsible for damages to the same-sex couples that she denied, claiming she should have qualified immunity.
“The First Amendment required then Gov. Steve Beshear to accommodate the sincere religious beliefs of Kim Davis. Had Gov. Beshear followed the law and granted Kim Davis a religious accommodation, there would be no case. As a result of Kim Davis, now every Kentucky clerk is entitled to a religious accommodation regarding marriage licenses. Kim Davis, the pioneer who spearheaded this effort, is also entitled to the same protection,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, which is representing Ms. Davis.
The latest court action follows a ruling earlier this year that she violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples by refusing to sign their marriage licenses after the Supreme Court in 2015 recognized same-sex marriage was lawful.
The high court’s same-sex marriage decision in known in Obergefell v. Hodges could get a second look from the conservative-leaning Supreme Court.
When the high court last month overruled the national right to abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas noted in his concurrence the court should also be open to revisiting a series of other cases including Obergefell.
Ms. Davis was the county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky when the 2015 decision came down legalizing same-sex marriages. She grabbed national headlines by refusing to issue them as a Christian, saying it ran afoul of her First Amendment rights.
Ms. Davis went to jail for a few days over her refusal to comply with the federal order to issue the marriage licenses. In her absence, her colleagues issued the licenses without her name on the documents. She had asked the Supreme Court to hear her case at the time, but the justices declined.
She lost her clerk position to a Democrat in a 2018 election.