In public, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has praised former Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for her defiance of the law when she refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. In 2015, he said, “I absolutely support her willingness to stand on her First Amendment rights… Without any question I support her.”
That support carried a lot of weight after two of those couples sued her for violating their rights. They won the lawsuit and Davis later appealed the decision. In 2017, she lost that appeal, saddling the Kentucky government (i.e. the taxpayers) with approximately $225,000 in legal fees.
At the time, the legal director for the ACLU of Kentucky said, “It is unfortunate that Kentucky taxpayers will likely bear the financial burden of the unlawful actions and litigation strategies of an elected official.” Voters certainly remembered all that last year, when they voted to kick Davis out of office.
But that $225,000 bill still needs to be paid.
And now Matt Bevin, the Christian governor who always had Davis’ back, says she should pay the full amount, not the government. His lawyers are arguing that Davis and Davis alone is responsible for her actions.
… A district judge ruled in 2017 that the couples suing for marriage licenses clearly prevailed and that the state of Kentucky must pay their fees and costs.
Bevin appealed that ruling, hoping to hand the bill instead to the Rowan County clerk’s office. Davis acted alone, without any state support, the governor’s lawyers told the 6th Circuit in briefs ahead of the oral arguments.
“Her local policy stood in direct conflict with her statutory obligation to issue marriage licenses to qualified Kentucky couples. The local policy also undermined the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s interest in upholding the rule of law,” Bevin attorney Palmer G. Vance II wrote in one brief.
It’s an absurd stance. As much as I’d love for Davis to pay up, the state government had every opportunity to punish her at the time — and did nothing. The judge who ruled against her even said as much.
Davis’ statutory authority to issue Kentucky marriage licenses came from the state government, [U.S. District Judge David] Bunning said. And had the state chosen to, he said, it could have pursued criminal penalties against Davis for official misconduct for refusing to do her duty, or the legislature could have impeached her and removed her from office.
Instead, the state legislature “modified the marriage license form to appease Davis,” he said. Bunning rejected holding Davis personally responsible for the money because the couples prevailed against her in her “official capacity” as a public official, not as an individual, he said.
“Davis represented the Commonwealth of Kentucky when she refused to issue marriage licenses to legally eligible couples. The buck stops there,” Bunning wrote.
Bevin deserves the blame as much as she does.
Even more amusing? If the same-sex couples win again at the appellate level — and they very likely will — the costs will go up even more. Someone’s going to pay, whether it’s Davis or the people represented by the incompetent Bevin, who loves getting praised by the Religious Right but refuses to accept the consequences of fulfilling their theocratic wishlist.