Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has a problem with judges.
Or maybe judges have a problem with him.
A few days ago, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young issued a follow-up to his earlier ruling saying that Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Much of this follow-up wasn’t a surprise – the judge said Indiana also must recognize same-sex unions performed in other states.
What was unusual was the rap on the knuckles – well, really, it was more like a full-scale paddling – Young administered to Pence in the ruling.
The judge said the governor was guilty of a “bold misrepresentation.” (That’s legalese for “pants on fire.”)
Some background: When the suit was filed to challenge Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, Pence told the court he, as governor, had no authority to enforce the ban and asked to be removed as a defendant. The judge agreed.
Once the judge agreed to stay his ruling until an appeals court – and, ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court – could decide the issue, the governor apparently decided he did have the authority to enforce the ban.
A memo from the governor’s office ordered state agencies to stop doing any work to comply with the judge’s ruling. The memo also said the ban was “in full force and executive branch agencies are to execute their functions” in regard to enforcing it.
Judge Young, to put it mildly, was not happy.
Young said the instructions “clearly contradict” what the governor told the court and showed the governor does have the authority to enforce the law and legal rulings.
He closed with this body blow:
“The court wishes to reiterate that it finds the governor’s prior representations contradicting such authority to be, at a minimum, troubling.”
And, sadly, it seems to be part of a pattern.
Just a few days later, a Lake County circuit court judge refused to stay his ruling that Indiana’s right-to-work law was unconstitutional. It was the second time an Indiana judge has tossed right to work on constitutional grounds.
Pence responded to Judge George Paras’ refusal to stay the decision blithely.
“Indiana is a right-to-work state and we are going to continue to advance that in this state,” Pence said.
The problem with that is that it just isn’t so. Until another court rules otherwise, Indiana isn’t a right-to-work state – at least not at the moment.
Pretending otherwise is to suggest that the governor gets to pick and choose which laws and court decisions he will enforce.
And which ones he will ignore.
The governor’s stances on same-sex marriage and right to work are clear. He is a conservative of deep conviction. The prospect of having laws that are dear to social conservatives and the business community, respectively, struck down can’t be welcome news for him.
The word Judge Young used – “troubling” – to describe Pence’s actions is perfect.
As governor, Pence is Indiana’s chief law enforcement official. That means he has a responsibility to enforce all the laws and legal rulings in the state.
Not just the ones he happens to agree with or like.
The truly troubling thing about all of this is that Mike Pence knows this.
On that cold day in January 2013 when he took the oath of office as governor, Pence said in his inaugural address:
“I am humbled by your trust, honored that you have chosen me to serve, and I am eager to be the governor of all the people of Indiana – young and old, city and country, rich and poor.”
Those are stirring words.
One way Gov. Pence could demonstrate he meant them is to quit playing games with the state’s and the nation’s judges.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” 90.1 WFYI Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.
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