Impeachable source

Seeking to impeach judges who make unpopular decisions would subject the courts to a political circus


An Ohio lawmaker is demanding the impeachment of a federal judge for recognizing the union of a gay couple from Cincinnati who were married legally in another state. This grandstanding waste of time deserves only as much attention as is needed to condemn it.

State Rep. John Becker (R., Clermont), is asking Congress to remove U.S. District Judge Timothy Black for alleged “malfeasance and abuse of power.” Mr. Becker’s real objection, it appears, is to same-sex marriage.

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James Obergefell and John Arthur were married in Maryland as Mr. Arthur was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. At issue was whether Mr. Arthur’s death record would list him as married, and whether Mr. Obergefell would be listed as the surviving spouse, as they wanted.

Ohio law bars recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages. Judge Black ruled this year that the law wrongly creates two tiers of couples who are legally married out of state: opposite-sex and same-sex.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order in favor of the gay couple. He is expected to make a further ruling in the case in December.

Representative Becker told The Blade’s editorial page that Judge Black’s decision is an example of “rule by oligarchy.” The lawmaker doesn’t like judicial review of laws, and blames the landmark 1803 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Marbury vs. Madison, a case that is studied by every high school history student. Marbury established that courts have the power to decide whether laws are unconstitutional — a principle that has served the nation well for more than two centuries.

Impeaching judges for making unpopular decisions would subject the nation’s judiciary to a political circus. So far, “no state or federal judge has been impeached for an opinion issued from the bench,” says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan court reform group based in Washington.

U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R., Cincinnati), to whom Mr. Becker made the impeachment request, sidestepped the issue. In a statement released by his office, he said: “I have full confidence in Ohio’s Office of the Attorney General during the appeals process.”

The prudent, traditional, conservative way to deal with this case is to let it work its way through the courts. Gay couples should be accorded the equality they deserve. And Representative Becker should find better ways to spend his publicly subsidized time.