No recusals needed in gay marriage case, AG’s office argues

LITTLE ROCK — Actions of state legislators should not compel members of the Arkansas Supreme Court to recuse in an appeal of a circuit judge’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office argued in a court filing Thursday.

The state is appealing Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s May ruling that Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. On Monday, lawyers for a group of same-sex couples who challenged the law filed a motion asking all Supreme Court justices who plan to seek re-election to recuse.

The plaintiffs noted in their motion that the state Legislative Council had adopted a resolution urging the court to overturn the ruling, and that state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, had spoken of seeking the ability to recall judges in response to the ruling. The couples argued that the justices could not uphold the ruling without creating the perception that they had been influenced by the “intimidation tactics” of legislators.

In a response filed Thursday, McDaniel’s office said the plaintiffs’ argument “has no basis in law.”

The attorney general’s office argued that judges are presumed to be impartial and that to grant the motion would encourage more frequent employment of such tactics.

“Nor is the appellees’ motion necessary even if the recusal of any justice is warranted, because the justices of this honorable court know best whether they should recuse,” Martin’s office argued in the response.

The Supreme Court stayed Piazza’s ruling a week after he issued it, but by then more than 500 same-sex couples had obtained marriage licenses in the state.

A separate lawsuit has been filed challenging the ban in federal court.