Saturday, January 03, 2015

Florida District Court Judge Attempts To Clarify Injunction In Same-Sex Marriage Case

A Florida federal district court has ruled on a motion to clarify a preliminary injunction it previously issued in a suit challenging Florida's ban on same-sex marriage. (See prior related posting.) At issue was whether the court's ruling did more than require a marriage license be issued to the specific couple who filed suit. In Brenner v. Scott, (ND FL, Jan. 1, 2015), the court said:
Reasonable people can debate whether the ruling in this case was correct and who it binds. There should be no debate, however, on the question whether a clerk of court may follow the ruling, even for marriage-license applicants who are not parties to this case. And a clerk who chooses not to follow the ruling should take note: the governing statutes and rules of procedure allow individuals to intervene as plaintiffs in pending actions, allow certification of plaintiff and defendant classes, allow issuance of successive preliminary injunctions, and allow successful plaintiffs to recover costs and attorney’s fees.
The Clerk has acknowledged that the preliminary injunction requires her to issue a marriage license to the two unmarried plaintiffs. The Clerk has said she will do so. In the absence of any request by any other plaintiff for a license, and in the absence of a certified class, no plaintiff now in this case has standing to seek a preliminary injunction requiring the Clerk to issue other licenses. The preliminary injunction now in effect thus does not require the Clerk to issue licenses to other applicants. But as set out in the order that announced issuance of the preliminary injunction, the Constitution requires the Clerk to issue such licenses. As in any other instance involving parties not now before the court, the Clerk’s obligation to follow the law arises from sources other than the preliminary injunction.
As reported by SCOTUSblog, immediately following this decision the law firm advising court clerks changed the advice it had previously given and said:
Greenberg Traurig has advised the Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers that clerks should follow the judge's ruling for all marriage-license applications or face the consequences identified by Judge Hinkle.
However, apparently Judge Hinkle's opinion still left some ambiguity.  Liberty Counsel issued a press release yesterday stating in part:
Nearly all media outlets... are grossly mischaracterizing the effect of the ruling....The error is likely the result of the order's condescending lecture to clerks on why they should bow to the August injunction even though they are not bound by it. Judge Hinkle’s lecture, however, has no force of law, and only invites lawlessness throughout the state.