Former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee responds as follows to a federal judge’s contempt finding against Rowan County clerk Kim Davis:
Kim Davis in federal custody removes all doubts about the criminalization of Christianity in this country. We must defend #ReligiousLiberty!
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) September 3, 2015
Henceforth when I think of Gov. Mike Huckabee it will be as someone unfamiliar with the legal concept of contempt of court. Gabriel Malor has dissected Huckabee’s enthusiasm for a purported right to defy SCOTUS rulings.
Kim Davis purges the contempt if she either carries out her public duties or quits her public office. So she is not in jail for refusing to violate her religion, unless her religion requires her to keep her public job (cool religion!). And while the traditional contempt power of the Anglo-American courts does generate various disturbing results — jailing dads for breaking a court order to see their kids, for example — pressure to resign a public office rates, to me, fairly low on the scale.
Speaking for myself, if my lawyers encouraged me to commit contempt of court, I might begin to wonder whose side they were on. Kim Davis’s Liberty Counsel lawyers, of course, were at the center of the extraordinary Miller-Jenkins case, much covered at this site, in which a client not only defied a court order but kidnapped a child along the way. And from Michelle Meyer, professional obligations of lawyers counseling clients re: contempt. (N.B.: Staver says Liberty Counsel “would never counsel a client to violate the law.”)
Plus: As Chris Geidner notes at BuzzFeed, Kentucky does not provide for recall of county clerks or removal by the governor for official misconduct. And Carly Fiorina, grown-up in the room: “when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role.”
P.S. In general, courts have a range of remedial options when faced with contempt, such as fines. Their discretion is bounded by various factors; for example, they are not supposed to resort to harsher remedies if milder ones would obtain compliance. Many of the comparisons being bandied about, by the way, involve officials who were defying some law but were not themselves personally under a court order not to do so.
A curious argument making the rounds posits it as somehow relevant that marriage law changed after Davis won elected office, supposedly upsetting her reliance on expectations of what duties she would be called on to perform. That’s not really a legal question, in the sense of casting any doubt on whether she is expected to follow the laws of Kentucky and the United States in current form if she wants to hold office. It’s more of a union shop steward’s argument — “you can’t change my job duties unless you bargain with me first.”
And: Thoughtful Dan McLoughlin what-goes-around-comes-around on lawlessness, Kim Davis, and the pervasiveness of double standards.