Arkansas court denies recusal bid in marriage case

Posted: September 4, 2014 at 12:34 p.m.

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas' highest court on Thursday denied a request by same-sex couples challenging the state's gay marriage ban that any justices planning on seeking re-election recuse themselves from the case.

The state Supreme Court denied the motion asking any justice expecting to run for re-election anytime in the future to consider not hearing the appeal of a state judge's decision striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza struck down the ban earlier this year, which led 541 same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses before Piazza's ruling was suspended by the state Supreme Court.

Justices did not elaborate on their reason for denying the motion.

The couples cited a legislative resolution approved in June condemning Piazza's decision and urging justices to uphold the ban. The couples had called the Legislative Council's resolution and the suggestion by some lawmakers that voters be allowed to recall judges "intimidation tactics."

Jack Wagoner, an attorney for the couples, said he believed they would still have a fair hearing before the court but had wanted to raise the resolution as an issue in case any justices felt the need to step aside from hearing the case.

"A motion like that just asks the justices to search their conscience to determine whether they believe there could be any perception of impropriety if they remained on the case," Wagoner said. "If they feel there's not, that's the end of it."

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel had asked the court to reject the motion, saying it was unnecessary.

"As the attorney general stated when the motion was filed, it is a nonstarter to file recusal motions simply because justices must hear controversial cases and then stand for election," McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said in an email. "We respect the court's decision."

It's unclear when the court will decide the appeal in the gay marriage lawsuit. The state has a Sept. 15 deadline to file its brief in the case.

The state is currently defending the ban on two fronts, with two same-sex couples arguing before a federal judge that it should be overturned as well.


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