In our first mailbag question we talk about Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis, why it’s harder than you think to remove elected officials, and weed.
(Quick Note: If you want us to answer a question or want us to talk about a certain policy initiative to be featured on future TPT Mailbags, send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the phrase “TPT Mailbag” in the subject line. We always love hearing from you.)
We’re still a relatively young site. So we don’t get reader questions very often. But yesterday there was one question in our inbox that stood out. The email came from Sasha and she asked:
I’m sure you’ve seen the news that today Kim Davis was tried by a federal judge and sent to prison for refusing to issue marriage court licenses to gay couples. While I do believe that she should be issuing marriage licenses regardless of her faith, because it’s the law, however I do have two questions regarding the situation.
Question 1: If she wasn’t respecting the law as a county clerk, why can’t she just be removed? I know she’s an elected official, so she can’t be fired, but you would think there would be a way to remove her?
Question 2: Has there been an instance where local or state officials went against federal law and got away with it? Because my guess would be no.
I’m absolutely in love with the site, so keep up the great work!
What’s up Sasha!
It’s always great hearing from our readers, also congratulations on being our first victim reader to be featured on our mailbag. You’re a pioneer for women everywhere!
Just like Amelia Earhart! Yup, exactly the same.
Anyway, your questions.
To answer your first question, you’re absolutely right. A county clerk can’t be fired from her post, because they’re an elected official. Also you’re right in that they can be removed from office – through impeachment – but like most elected offices, it ain’t easy.
In the case of Kim Davis, The Kentucky Equality Federation – an LGBT rights group – asked Kentucky’s Governor Steve Beshear to call a special session of the General Assembly to discuss impeachment hearings against Davis, but Gov. Beshear declined citing budgetary restraints. And by “budgetary restraints” he meant polls show Kentucky voters overwhelmingly against gay marriage and support Davis’ religious stand, soooooo… yeah… “budgetary constraints.”
That’s why in cases like these, the federal government looked at the situation and decided to take matters into their own hands (ie use the federal court system to make sure Supreme Court rulings were being implemented on a local level). To the federal government, if something like a well-publicized Supreme Court case that decided same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right is not implemented at the local levels of state government, then that creates a slippery slope of state and local governments to deny other federal laws.
Which actually brings us to your second question, are there instances where state and local officials that went against federal law and “got away with it?”
Actually there is! Ever hear of state marijuana legalization?
No joke, states like Colorado, Missouri, Washington, and others that passed laws which allow the recreational – or even medicinal – use of marijuana are directly defying federal law! As many of us know, the possession and distribution of marijuana is illegal under federal law. For some time there was a standoff between the Justice Department and the sates that legalized marijuana use. It wasn’t until recently that the feds decided to back away from cracking down on states that legalized the drug. Yet it came with a caveat; the Justice Department emphasized that states would have to tightly regulate the sell and use of marijuana, along with the federal government having the right to arrest anyone that was breaking federal marijuana laws.
To the federal government, states that legalized marijuana use are like parents who have children that make millions writing an autobiography about their childhood. Sure you’re proud that your child has become an accomplished writer, but kind of annoyed it came at the expense of them recounting the time you forgot to pick them up from soccer practice!
In other words, the federal government isn’t necessarily thrilled with states defying federal laws on recreational marijuana use, but after hearing the type of tax revenue coming from states like Colorado, you can see why the federal government would back off. To them it was a fight not worth having.
Gay marriage on the other hand, there was just a huge Supreme Court case over same-sex marriage, if you’re the federal government you need to make sure state and local governments are following federal guidelines. There is absolutely nothing to gain for letting that go.
Hurt feelings from government officials be damned.
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