On Friday, June 28, 2024, Reuters reported that the Texas Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit filed by Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley, who was publicly reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings due to her religious beliefs.

Hensley, an elected judge in Waco, Texas who hears small claims and misdemeanor cases, was censured in 2019 by the Judicial Conduct Commission which found that her denying officiating same-sex marriages cast doubt on her ability to be impartial to all people appearing before her as a judge, regardless of sexual orientation. In response, Hensley filed a lawsuit against the commission, claiming it violated her religious rights as a Christian by reprimanding her. She sought a court order blocking any future sanctions.

A trial court had originally dismissed Hensley’s suit after she did not appeal the initial warning issued by the commission. An appeals court later upheld that dismissal. However, in an 8-1 decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Hensley’s failure to appeal the commission’s reprimand did not prevent her from filing a separate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the commission’s actions. The high court remanded the case back to lower courts and did not make any judgments about the actual merits of Hensley’s arguments.

In a concurring opinion, two justices stated their view that the high court should have addressed the substantive issues in the case. Justices Jimmy Blacklock and John Devine wrote that Hensley’s choice to politely decline to perform same-sex marriages due to her faith did not demonstrate any bias against gay people.

Douglas Lang, an attorney for the Judicial Conduct Commission, argued that Hensley’s lawsuit sought a “license to discriminate.” However, the commission has maintained that its warning did not prohibit Hensley from practicing her religion.

As an elected justice of the peace with jurisdiction over small civil cases up to $20,000 and misdemeanors in Waco, Hensley and other justices of the peace in Texas have the option but not a requirement to officiate at weddings. The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide with its ruling in 2015.



Source: Reuters