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June 11, 2004
New York Continues Slide Towards Autocracy

A judge in New York has dismissed charges against a mayor who performed same-sex marriages, ruling that the state didn't show that the underlying law he violated was constitutional:

A judge dismissed criminal charges Thursday against a small-town mayor for marrying gay couples, saying the state failed to show it has a legitimate interest in banning same-sex weddings.

New Paltz Town Court Justice Jonathan Katz also ruled that prosecutors failed to prove the law New Paltz Mayor Jason West was charged with violating was constitutional.

While I tend to take a more libertarian point of view of gay marriage -- I don't think it will cause the collapse of civilization that my friends do -- I am adamantly opposed to the rise of autocratic rule that this issue has promoted. Gavin Newsom also took the law into his own hands in San Francisco, overruling the state Legislature and effectively passing his own laws in defiance. Jason West did the same thing. Now Justice Katz has legitimized this arrogation of power by a local executive over a state legislature, and the result is dangerous for our representative democracy.

Americans have carefully built a hierarchical structure of laws, and a separation of legislative and executive powers at each level, in order to maintain both public order and the rights of the citizenry to self-government. When we endorse the notion that one man can redefine the law, for whatever purpose, we lose the accountability that the legislature provides. Laws in our country are promulgated by the legislature, and signed or vetoed by the executive, and when necessary checked by the courts to determine constitutionality -- but only using due process.

In defying the state legislature, the local mayor broke the law, regardless of whether the policy is wise or foolish. Mayor West, if he disapproved of the law, could have filed a lawsuit to challenge it, instead of grandstanding by performing illegal marriages. Judge Katz endorsed lawlessness by dismissing the charges. Apparently the judge doesn't feel that enforcing state law is a legitimate interest of the state, an odd position for a state judge to take, surely. In his decision, Katz is just as bad as West, and maybe more so; he has decided which laws he likes and which he doesn't, instead of applying the law as decided by the people's representatives.

The case of Jason West and Jonathan Katz provides a microcosm of our poliical and legislative process at the national level for the past 40 years. Public officials have turned our country farther and farther towards the rule of a few men and women in robes who are beyond the natural reach that elections provide. Meanwhile, the legitimate representatives of the will of the electorate -- the legislatures -- see their power to pass the laws that bind us emasculated. Unless people enjoy the thought of an Iranian-style government that passes laws all day long that are routinely ignored while an unelected and lifetime Supreme Council makes all the important decisions affecting the electorate, we need to quit endorsing the behavior of the Wests and Katzes and insist on the proper execution of powers under our Constitution.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 11, 2004 6:15 AM

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