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PARTY LINES: Why Congress felt the need to recognize gay marriage as legal

Blame it on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The House of Representatives this week felt the need to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which federally recognizes any marriage that is valid under state laws and requires states to recognize marriages that are valid under the laws of other states. (One might argue that the latter is already policy under the Constitution’s full faith and credit provision found in Article 4, Section 1.)

Specifically, the bill would overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and recognize gay marriage as legal at the federal level, something that has already been the case since the Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

So why the need for the bill, which passed 267 to 157, with 47 Republicans joining with all the chamber’s Democrats?

Blame Thomas, and more specifically his dissent in this year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. In his concurring opinion, Thomas said that not only should the court’s recognition of the right to abortion be overruled, but other cases, too, specifically those that rely on the doctrine of “substantial due process.”

“For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion. “Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

Hence, Congress taking time to pass a bill that essentially reinforces existing policy.

And that ironic divide was not lost on Nevada’s members of Congress.

“I am proud to vote today to protect marriage equality for Nevadans and all Americans,” said Democratic Congressman Steven Horsford in a statement released by his office. “With its decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s Republican-appointed supermajority took a wrecking ball to 50 years of legal precedent and severely weakened the Constitutional right to privacy. Now, right-wing extremists are leading a cruel assault on even more of Nevadans’ most cherished and hard-won freedoms — including the right to marry the person they love. The bipartisan, bicameral Respect for Marriage Act will enshrine marriage equality into federal law and prohibit state officials from discriminating against same-sex and interracial couples.”

It should be noted that Nevada’s Constitution, as amended in 2020, already protects gay marriage in this state, so overruling Obergefell would not change policy here. And it should also be noted that Horsford neglected to mention the president who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into existence more than a quarter-century ago: Democrat Bill Clinton.

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Rep. Mark Amodei — who voted no — slammed the bill as unnecessary.

“It takes less than 24 hours for a messaging bill to go from introduction to being on the House floor for a vote, with no hearings, no reviews of what states have done, and no respect for states that have addressed this issue at the ballot box,” Amodei said in a statement. “Further, the right to same-sex marriage remains the law of the land. At the state level, this issue has been dealt with by the people of Nevada in a straightforward and transparent fashion. They did not ask for, nor do they need direction from a body of 435 individuals — 431 of whom are not from Nevada.”

Amodei added: “I sure wish we could get an immigration bill to the floor to make meaningful policy changes at the border, on energy, or on housing costs, to name a few. Instead, we try to inject a federal solution into an issue where Nevada law is quite clear on the issue, and it is the product of voters expressing their will. I vote no.”

Done in by the blue slip … again

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is usually a very savvy political player, and the case of Chad Meredith is no exception. McConnell had actually convinced President Joe Biden, a Democrat, to nominate the anti-abortion lawyer to a federal judgeship in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky, to the outrage of Democrats.

But it wasn’t Biden who sank the nomination. It was McConnell’s fellow Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, who refused to return the “blue slip” indicating he had no problems with the nomination. The blue slip tradition — in which home-state senators indicate they have no problems with a judicial nomination — in effect allows a senator to have veto power.

Nevada has seen this happen before: In 2012, then-senior U.S. Sen. Harry Reid recommended (and then-President Barack Obama nominated) then-Clark County District Court Judge Elissa Cadish for a seat on the federal bench. But then-junior Sen. Dean Heller refused to return the blue slip, citing Cadish’s answer on a years-old survey about gun rights.

As a result, the Senate Judiciary Committee wouldn’t take up the nomination, despite the fact that Reid was a Democrat, the Democrats controlled the Senate and the White House.

And since the blue slip is simply tradition — and is not found in the Constitution or laws of the United States — we opined at the time that it was time to ditch it. If only McConnell had read that column when he was serving as Senate majority leader, stocking the courts with conservative federal judges!

For his part, McConnell described Paul’s opposition to Meredith’s nomination as “just utterly pointless.”

By the way, Cadish ran and was elected to the Nevada Supreme Court in 2018. Heller lost his bid for re-election that year, and in June came in third in the Republican nomination for governor.

Endorsements update

The Republican Jewish Coalition PAC has endorsed GOP challengers Mark Robertson in Congressional District 1 and April Becker in Congressional District 3. “These RJC PAC-endorsed candidates are smart, capable, conservative leaders who will fight back against the disastrous far-left policies that are laying waste to our great country,” the PAC said in a statement.

The National Border Patrol Council, which represents more than 18,000 agents, endorsed Adam Laxalt for U.S. Senate. “We have no doubt Adam will take the same tenacity he showed as Attorney General to lead the fight in the U.S. Senate to secure our border and stop the influx of deadly drugs flowing into our communities. Adam cares deeply about the safety of you and your children and will do all in his power to keep Nevada safe, which is why the NBPC is proud to support him in this crucial election,” said Brandon Judd, the group’s president, in a statement.

And speaking of endorsements

Cross-party endorsements always get extra attention in political circles, since they run against the grain. That’s what happened when former Nevada Republican Party Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian endorsed Democratic incumbent state Treasurer Zach Conine for re-election over his Republican rival, Michele Fiore.

“A qualified State Treasurer is beneficial for every person in our State and having someone who is running for Treasurer after being under investigation multiple times is not a good start,” Tarkanian said in a statement. “Zach Conine is a smart and experienced leader who is the right person to deliver results for Nevadans in challenging economic times.”

The FBI has interviewed people at City Hall about Fiore and also staged a raid on her home. But so far, no charges have been filed.

The reaction was swift online, and some Republicans disagreed, including the party Tarkanian used to lead.

“It’s no surprise that failed chair Amy Tarkanian, who served for seven months, 11 years ago, with her strong ties to (Democratic Gov.) Steve Sisolak and many other Nevada Democrats, endorsed a Democrat,” the party said in its own statement. “Amy Tarkanian continues her desperate efforts to say or do anything to get in front of a camera, any camera. Nevada Republicans stand completely and 100% with Nevada’s next Treasurer Michele Fiore.”

One person even posted a photo of Amy and Danny Tarkanian, her husband and a Douglas County commissioner, standing with Sisolak! (Psst, Republicans: It’s even worse than you think! There’s a photo out there of Amy Tarkanian posing at a GOP convention with this reporter!)

Tarkanian was nonplussed by the reaction, saying on Twitter, “news flash! Some of you are upset that I endorsed a democrat over a republican. I vote for the better and more qualified person. I’m standing by (Conine) for Nevada treasurer.”

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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