The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Kim Davis, the former Kentucky county clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples five years ago.
Although the court unanimously declined to hear Davis’s appeal, Justices Thomas and Alito used the case to issue a statement against the decision made in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States. Thomas wrote in the statement that that decision made for “cavalier treatment of religion” and that “Davis may have been one of the first victims, but she will not be the last.”
Davis had been temporarily jailed in 2015 after defying a court order that she issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. She was defeated in 2018 by Democratic challenger Elwood Caudwell Jr. Today’s SCOTUS ruling upholds a decision in the lower courts that allows a lawsuit to be brought against Davis on behalf of the couples she denied licenses to.
While today’s decision affirms the ruling in Obergefell, the statement by Thomas and Alito signals the possibility of future troubles. Next month, the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in the case of Fulton v. The City of Philadelphia, which involves a Catholic charity suing the city over loss of contract for refusing to award foster care to same-sex couples.
“The opinion lays down a marker that at least some of the justices already view the court’s recognition of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage as an affront to civil liberty, and so may well use the latter to scale back the former in future cases,” says Steven Vladeck, a law professor and CNN legal analyst.
“Especially at this moment in time, with major religious liberty cases already in the pipeline and in the middle of a contentious confirmation fight the result of which could move the court sharply to the right on these issues, it’s a telling — and ominous — message for the court’s two longest-serving conservatives,” Vladeck says.