WASHINGTON – What Kim Davis did was troubling. What Ted Cruz did was downright alarming.
Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky, refused to issue marriage certificates to gay couples. She said she was operating “under God’s authority,” but she now sits in jail for ignoring federal authority.
Davis, at least, is facing the consequences of her actions. Not so Cruz, senator from Texas and Republican presidential candidate.
“Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny,” he said. “Today, for the first time ever, the government arrested a Christian woman for living according to her faith. … I stand with Kim Davis. Unequivocally.”
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Tyranny? Our system of government gives the Supreme Court final say over constitutional matters, and, though Cruz doesn’t like it, the court ordered states to recognize same-sex marriages. In fact, the high court specifically declined to give relief to Davis, and the federal judge who ordered her jailed for contempt of court is a George W. Bush appointee and son of a former Republican senator.
Now Cruz, who took an oath of office to “support and defend the Constitution,” wants people to defy the Supreme Court’s authority? Who is the lawless one?
Cruz isn’t the only Republican candidate seeking the nation’s highest office while encouraging people to ignore its laws. Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, declared: “I thank God for Kim Davis, and I hope more Americans will stand with her.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, too, supported Davis, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called her jailing “absurd” and said stands such as Davis’ are “an important part of the American way.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said that “you have the freedom to practice religious beliefs out there. It’s a fundamental right.”
True. And there’s a proud American tradition of defying unjust laws with civil disobedience. But nobody is denying Davis freedom to believe what she wishes; she’s merely being ordered to do what she swore to do: “faithfully execute the duties of my office without favor.” Refusing to do so doesn’t make her Martin Luther King Jr. It makes her George Wallace.
“When they put their personal beliefs above their responsibilities as public servants, that’s not civil disobedience, it’s abuse of power,” says Michael Keegan of the liberal group People for the American Way, which tracks such actions by public officials. “Elected officials who feel like they can’t in good conscience fulfill their duties have an honorable way to proceed: They can find another line of work.”
Defenders of Davis, a Democrat, cite President Barack Obama’s “lawlessness” – but even his expansive view of presidential power doesn’t include ignoring court orders. They cite San Francisco’s “lawless” sanctuary-city statute – but the ordinance has survived 26 years without being invalidated.
Jeb Bush, to his credit, said Davis “is sworn to uphold the law.” But a large number of Republican officeholders are encouraging people to ignore a variety of laws.
When Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy last year undertook an armed standoff against the federal government, Paul, Ben Carson (also now a GOP presidential candidate), Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and others took Bundy’s side.
Huckabee and Rick Santorum, another GOP presidential candidate, signed a pledge not to “respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law.” Huckabee is on record saying that “the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they cannot overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.” Huckabee floated the notion of using federal troops to block people from getting abortions. He also said: “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch.”
Paul recently sounded a call to arms against the city of Houston over a rescinded attempt to subpoena local pastors. “That’s at the point at which civil resistance is in order,” he said. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for his part, said last year that his state wouldn’t comply with a federal prison-rape law.
Davis got support for her law-breaking from Matt Bevin, the Republican candidate for governor of Kentucky, and from her husband Joe, one of three men to whom she has been married. Ominously, he said he’s not afraid of harassment by gay-marriage supporters, and he invoked his gun-toting rights under the Second Amendment. “I’m an old redneck hillbilly, that’s all I’ve got to say,” he said. “Don’t come knocking on my door.”
It’s fitting that, as Kim Davis undermines the rule of law, Joe Davis threatens violence. When you lose the former, all you’re left with is the latter.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.