We’re in a weird place as a party when Trump, the would-be strongman who’s going to smash sclerotic American government as we know it, is more of a “rule of law” guy than Ted Cruz is. And way, way more of one than Mike Huckabee is.
Trump prefers an accommodation in which gay couples can get their licenses, as the Obergefell ruling requires, and Davis can opt out so that she’s not involved in something that violates her religious beliefs. But she doesn’t want to opt out. She wants to force the whole office to opt out by forbidding her deputies from issuing licenses without her approval. As recently as yesterday, during her contempt hearing, her lawyers were warning people that marriage licenses issued today by her staff (there have already been two as of 10:30 a.m. ET) while she’s in jail won’t be valid because they lack her signature as county clerk — and she might not be wrong about that. What she’s doing, as Charles Cooke put it, isn’t so much seeking a conscientious objection for herself as demanding a right of secession for Rowan County from the post-Obergefell legal regime. Cruz and Huckabee seem okay with that. Trump evidently isn’t.
“The other simple answer is rather than going through this, [because] it’s really a very, very sticky situation, a terrible situation — 30 miles away they have other places, they have many other places where you get licensed, and you have them actually quite nearby,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s another alternative. I hate to see her being put in jail. I understand what they’re doing. It would be certainly nice if she didn’t do it, but other people in her office do it but from what I understand she won’t allow other people in her office to do it.”
Bottom line, host Joe Scarborough said, is that if Supreme Court makes a decision, that’s the law of land, right?
“You have to go with it,” Mr. Trump said. “The decision’s been made, and that is the law of the land.”…
“She can take a pass and let somebody else in the office do it in terms of religious, so you know, it’s a very … tough situation, but we are a nation, as I said yesterday, we’re a nation of laws,” he said. “And I was talking about borders and I was talking about other things, but you know, it applies to this, also, and the Supreme Court has ruled. It would be nice to have other people in her office do what they have to do.”
Smart point, but the Cruz/Huckabee take on this is that a “lawless” Supreme Court opinion doesn’t count as “law” the way a statute does. Cruz, at least, knows better, but it’s in his political interest to push that argument. I’m curious to see if he comes after Trump over this at one of the debates, sensing that it’s a rare chance for him to out-populist Mr. Populism. If he does, Trump should come back: Who gets to decide which court opinions are sufficiently “lawless” that they needn’t be enforced? We’re left with Trump, the alleged revolutionary, standing up for the long tradition of judicial review while more mainstream GOP pols argue that that tradition has been so discredited by left-wing double standards that conservatives should take the same a la carte approach to law enforcement. Let every county clerk go their own way. In hindsight, Obama should have cited his, ahem, deep religious convictions as grounds for granting executive amnesty.
Exit question via a Twitter buddy: How come no one’s standing up for the conscience rights of Davis’s deputy clerks? What if one of them enthusiastically supports gay marriage and wants to issue licenses in Davis’s stead? The state’s telling Davis that she has a duty to obey Supreme Court rulings and she’s telling her deputies that they have a duty to obey her personal religious beliefs. Why is the former less legitimate than the latter?