Last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned state gay-marriage bans and affirmed marriage equality across the country, Texas responded exactly how you’d expect.
While clerks in cities like San Antonio were prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately following the ruling, others dragged their feet. In Harris County, couples waited hours as County Clerk Stan Stanart (who’d earlier said a SCOTUS ruling in favor of gay marriage would be “destroying an institution”) pretended he was caught in a legal gray area. Others held out much longer, emboldened by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's official obstinance to a high court ruling that legalized gay marriage.
Turns out openly encouraging government officials to defy a Supreme Court ruling might not be such a great idea. Last week an appeals board appointed by the state Supreme Court ordered the State Bar of Texas to investigate whether Paxton violated rules of professional conduct by telling clerks that they could turn away same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.
Last summer, almost immediately after Paxton told clerks they could discriminate against gay couples, a group of lawyers, former State Bar directors and judges filed a grievance with the bar’s chief disciplinary counsel pointing to Paxton’s response to the SCOTUS gay-marriage ruling. While the State Bar initially tossed their complaint, the group appealed their grievance to the state’s Board of Disciplinary Appeals, which last week ordered the State Bar to continue its investigation into Paxton.
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The ruling means that Paxton, whose legal troubles have come to define his short time in office, now has to file a response explaining how encouraging government officials to flout a high court ruling doesn’t conflict with his oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States.” Depending on how the state bar's inquiry shakes out, the state's top lawyer could face disciplinary action or even lose his license to practice law in the state of Texas.
“This is about maintaining the integrity of the profession,” said Eddie Rodriguez, a Houston attorney whose firm *helped file the grievance against Paxton. “You can disagree with a court ruling, but you can’t go telling people they can break the law.”
*Clarification 2/12/2016: Attorneys Ruth A. Kollman, Steve Fischer and Brian Bouffard wrote and signed the grievance filed against Paxton. You can read the whole thing here: