Instant Ethics Train Wreck: The Alabama Gay Marriage Stand-off

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

What does Dred Scott have to do with the Alabama gay marriage mess? Absolutely nothing.

This summer, the Supreme Court will again take up the issue of the Constitutionality of state gay marriage bans, having left the question open (why, I don’t know) after striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. Since that ruling, the states have been busy little bees, some passing laws banning same-sex marriage, some doing the opposite, then fighting out multiple appeals at various levels of the judicial system. Three things are certain: the cultural and legal acceptance of same-sex marriage looks unstoppable; all states need to agree on what a legal marriage is; and some faith-based same-sex marriage opponents will not give in until the last dog dies.

Beginning at the end of last week, a messy situation in Alabama involving all of these factors burst into a full-fledged ethics train wreck. The links in this post will let you immerse yourself in the mess if you choose: I’m going to try to be clear. Here is what has transpired so far:

1) A federal judge, District Court Judge Callie V. Granade,  struck down the state’s ban  on same-sex marriages in January and said that Alabama could start issuing licenses last week unless the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and stayed her order. A stay was immediately requested by the Alabama Attorney General, who properly defended the state’s law.

2.) The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to step in and stop her order from going into effect.

3) The U.S. Supreme Court also refused the stay request, allowing marriages to proceed in Alabama.

4) Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, reminded everyone that probate judges report to him, not the federal judge and not the Attorney General, and do not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until he tells them to. He told them not to.

5) Some Alabama probate judges followed Moore, and some went ahead and issued the licenses. Mass confusion reigned.

6) Meanwhile, the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay pending its ruling on state same-sex marriage laws later this year was widely interpreted as tantamount to SCOTUS deciding the case before it was even argued.

7) Justice Clarence Thomas, in a dissent from the  majority’s rejection of the stay (we don’t know what the vote break was), argued that “This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question. This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”

8) Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, meanwhile, appeared to endorse gay marriage in an interview.

9) Attempting to break the impasse, U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade ordered Mobile County, Alabama to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, paving the way for resistant officials across the state to follow suit, in a decision stating that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage had been struck down and that ­Mobile County’s probate judge had to adhere to that decision.

10) Chief Justice Moore remains unmoved, but now most of the probate judges are following the federal order.

Got that?

Good, now you can explain it to me.

What a mess.

Here are the ethics verdicts on the participants so far: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: Awarding An Accused Rapist The Heisman Trophy

jameis2Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was cool, collected and funny delivering the “Top Ten” on David Letterman last night, but to me, the hijinks seemed out of sync with reality, fairness and justice somehow.

The 19 year-old-Florida State University star quarterback became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner ever when he was named college football’s most outstanding player Saturday night in New York. He is also the youngest accused rapist to be awarded the Heisman.

That award  symbolizes football’s ongoing ethics problem. The pro game’s brutal, uber-macho and “the ends justify the means” culture that has players maiming each other as the crowd cheers and multiple felons on the field in most games has reached into the lower reaches of football, with both colleges and high schools breeding arrogant, entitled jerks who get special treatment through their pampered academic careers and too often emerge from from the football machine as polished sociopaths. The Penn State horror story was a symptom of this. Is Winston’s award another?

It hasn’t been featured in many of the exultant stories about the Heisman winner, but a year ago, on December 7, he was accused of rape by an FSU co-ed. Last week the prosecutors—just in time for the Heisman!—declared that they had not found enough evidence to convict him, which means that they did not have enough evidence to ethically prosecute him. The accuser’s attorney, Patricia Carroll, immediately condemned the decision and the  investigation that led to it, detailing multiple irregularities in the the handling of evidence and testimony. Writes Slate’s legal reporter Emily Bazelon: Continue reading

Slate’s Emily Bazelon Shows How Bias Makes Journalists Not Just Inaccurate and Unfair, But Stupid Too

Besides, a judge who overturns Bloomberg's soft drink ban MUST be a conservative, because we all know conservatives are fat and eat meat and stuff and don't want people to be healthy so they don't have to pay their fair share for Obamacare, right?

Besides, a judge who overturns Bloomberg’s soft drink ban MUST be a conservative, because we all know conservatives are fat and eat meat and stuff and don’t want people to be healthy so they don’t have to pay their fair share for Obamacare, right?

The judge who struck down New York Mayor Bloomberg’s giant soft drink ban, as controversial an example of aggressive government paternalism over personal choice as one can find, has a pretty clear record of supporting traditional liberal positions, like same-sex marriage, and appears to be a Democrat. He was elected in ultra-liberal Manhattan, and supported by Charlie Rangel’s organization.

Nonetheless, writing about the decision in Slate, legal analyst Emily Bazelon wrote this…

“Judge Tingling walked on by all of that in striking down the Department of Health order. And of course he’s not the first conservative judge to find that activism from the bench is awfully appealing when it allows you to sweep away laws you don’t like.”

How does she know Tingling is a conservative judge? Why, because he ruled against a prohibition that she, a liberal, happens to like. Just consider what she is doing in this statement: Continue reading

Executing an Insane Killer: a Cynical Ethics Controversy

Let’s me get this straight: this is only a “macabre spectacle” if the guy strapped down to be poisoned isn’t crazy. Right?

In the case of Steven Staley, Texas has itself one of those periodic ethical/legal conundrums surrounding capital punishment that leave me feeling  cynical, puzzled, and worried that I am missing an important part of my compassion apparatus.

Staley’s problem, or his perhaps stroke of luck, is that he is a little more crazy now than he was when he committed the crimes that placed him on death row. In September 1989, Staley escaped from a Denver prison  and started robbing everything he encountered, looting nine businesses across four states. Finally he hit the Steak and Ale Restaurant in Tarrant County, Texas. Staley and his accomplices gathered the employees at gunpoint and forced the manager to hand over the contents of all the registers and the store safe. He then took the manager into the getaway car as a hostage, and executed him as Staley tried to elude the police. Continue reading