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Zoeller: State’s lawyer has duty to represent state in marriage suit

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By Greg Zoeller

Recent federal court actions that first struck down Indiana’s statute limiting marriage to the traditional definition, and then stayed that order pending appeal, have left many in our state in legal limbo. As the attorney who represents state government and defends its laws, I know this difficult case stirs many people’s deeply held beliefs that touch their lives in very personal ways. Not since my office had to represent the state in lawsuits arising from the State Fair disaster has a dispute been so seemingly impossible to address in a way that the public would accept as being fair to all concerned.

Not to have requested a stay in Indiana’s same-sex marriage cases would have been a dereliction of duty to my state client given that the United States Supreme Court granted an identical stay Jan. 6 after Utah’s traditional marriage law was invalidated. The Supreme Court stayed implementation of a lower court’s order until it could consider cases working their way through the federal appeals pipeline. Other federal courts around the nation have uniformly followed that precedent of issuing stay orders in same-sex marriage lawsuits to avoid chaos at local courthouses.

In 2013, the Supreme Court declined to decide the question of state-level marriage statutes because the state of California and its attorney general did not defend California’s law. Instead, the court threw the question back to states, prompting more litigation that could last yet another year. Failing to defend Indiana’s law from this challenge is not an option available to me or the attorney general’s office. Though I don’t make state laws, I take seriously my obligation to defend the statutes the Legislature passes from challenges plaintiffs’ lawyers file, both in trial court and on appeal. We can’t abandon our state clients or fail to defend the statute, duties that some editorials have not grasped.

I respect opinions of constituents who disagree. From reading news accounts and social media, it is clear some view me as being on the “wrong side of history” or even bigoted, homophobic or uncaring. None of that is accurate, but being an elected official means being subjected to criticism that sometimes can be intense, accurate or not. The women and men who serve in the attorney general’s office and who have a duty to represent our state in court – whether the state prevails – are simply fulfilling their obligations as public servants.

As officers of the court, all lawyers must try to maintain the public’s respect for judges and the courts’ decisions. Attorneys on both sides of these cases are fulfilling oaths to represent opposing positions in court to the best of our ability. Our adversarial system of justice ensures both sides of a controversy are fully aired and that a decision is not made until both sides have had the opportunity to advocate their viewpoints zealously.

Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court eventually decides, I ask everyone to respect the judges, the decisions they render and the attorneys advocating for all parties involved. While courts do their work, Hoosiers on all sides of this contentious issue ought to show civility and respect toward each other and toward the judicial process.•

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Greg Zoeller is attorney general of Indiana. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  1. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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