In a recent development regarding the case of Hensley v. State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Dianne Hensley, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1, Waco, McLennan County in Texas, has submitted a letter to the court on Thursday, July 6, 2023, highlighting a significant decision made by the Supreme Court in a related case. The letter provides notice of supplemental authority by bringing attention to the case of 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis, No. 21-476 (2023), which has bearing on the issues discussed in Hensley v. State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

In a report by Abusivediscretion, it was stated that Judge Hensley was cited for a public warning for her religious beliefs as a Christian, wherein she claimed that her faith prevented her from officiating same-sex weddings. Consequently, the same ceased performing weddings altogether after being warned. After receiving a public warning, Judge Hensley took legal action against the commission on April 10, 2023. Her lawsuit sought relief and compensation under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act due to her refusal to officiate same-sex marriages. Notably, Judge Hensley did not appeal the initial sanction. Led by conservative attorney Jonathan Mitchell and supported by lawyers from the First Liberty Institute, her legal team argued that the state appeals court made an error by upholding the dismissal of her lawsuit. They asserted that expressing a religious belief against same-sex marriage should not call into question a judge’s impartiality.

On the opposing side, lawyers representing the judicial conduct commission urged the Texas Supreme Court to reject the case, describing it as a “collateral attack” against the prior disciplinary order. They requested the court to uphold the ruling that dismissed the lawsuit, emphasizing that Hensley is legally prohibited from suing the commission. The case presents a complex legal and ethical debate, revolving around the clash between religious freedom, a judge’s impartiality, and same-sex marriage.

Following the event, Judge Hensley and her legal team submitted a new brief wherein they informed the court of the Colorado court’s decision in 303 Creative LLC v Elenis, no. 21-476 (2023), arguing that the said matter is also applicable to Judge Hensley’s lawsuit. The case involved a Christian website designer’s right to refuse services for same-sex weddings based on his/her religious beliefs, which the court upheld despite a Colorado law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Judge Hensley’s legal team stated that the decision is relevant to her case, as it rejects the notion of a “compelling interest” in forcing wedding vendors to participate in same-sex ceremonies.

The letter states:

“303 Creative was interpreting the First Amendment’s Speech Clause rather than the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Its holding is nonetheless instructive because it rejects the idea of a ‘compelling interest’ in forcing wedding vendors to participate in same-sex and opposite-sex marriage ceremonies on equal terms. The respondents have insisted throughout this litigation that the state has a ‘compelling interest’ under Texas RFRA in forcing Judge Hensley to officiate same-sex weddings on the same terms that she officiates opposing-sex weddings, notwithstanding her sincere religious objections to homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage. But the respondents’ argument would have required 303 Creative to come out the other way.”

In lieu of the said case, the legal team of Judge Hensley attached a copy of the case and submitted it before the Supreme Court of Texas.

Judge Hensley’s courtroom is located at 1800 Richter Ave # A, Waco, TX 76711, and can be reached at +1 254-752-4242. Her info can be found on Ballotpedia.org.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.