Kim Davis’s resistance to marriage equality may cost her county dearly.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky Monday filed a motion in federal court seeking to recover $233,058 in attorneys’ fees and other expenses associated with the lawsuit it brought on behalf of several couples last year when Davis shut down marriage license operations in Rowan County, where she is the elected county clerk, rather than issue licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land.
Both Davis and Rowan County are named as defendants in the motion, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky. But “the motion does not call for Davis to personally pay the fees,” ACLU spokesman Ryan Karerat told BuzzFeed.
The organization aims “to send a message to government officials that willful violations of individuals’ rights will be costly,” ACLU of Kentucky legal director William Sharp said in a press release.
“It is unfortunate that an elected official sought to use her office to withhold government services on the basis of her religious beliefs,” ACLU of Kentucky executive director Michael Aldridge said in the same release. “And it is equally regrettable that the county may now have to pay for her misuse of that office and her refusal to comply with the court’s orders.”
When Davis shut down marriage license operations at her office in shortly after the marriage equality ruling, she said issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples conflicted with her Christian beliefs. After U.S. District Judge David Bunning ordered her to comply with the law and issue licenses to all eligible couples, she still refused, and then Bunning found her in contempt of court. She spent five days in jail last fall as a result, then was released because her deputies were serving same-sex couples, bringing Rowan County into compliance.
Eventually the state of Kentucky changed its marriage license forms to remove the names of county clerks, first by Gov. Matt Bevin’s executive order, then by legislation, and this satisfied Davis’s objections. Last month Bunning dismissed the suits brought against Davis, noting that the state’s actions rendered them moot. “In light of these proceedings, and in view of the fact that the marriage licenses continue to be issued without incident, there no longer remains a case or controversy before the Court,” he wrote.
But the fact that marriage licenses are being issued without discrimination means the ACLU and its clients prevailed, therefore entitling the organization to recoup the costs, ACLU officials said. “Courts recognize that when successful civil rights plaintiffs obtain a direct benefit from a court-ordered victory, such as in this case, they can be entitled to their legal expenses to deter future civil rights violations by government officials,” Sharp said in the ACLU of Kentucky’s release.
Liberty Counsel, the far-right legal group that represented Davis, didn’t see it that way. Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the group, said the state’s changes to marriage license forms mean Davis actually won the case. “County clerks are now able to perform their public service without being forced to compromise their religious liberty,” he said in a press release. “The case is now closed and the door has been shut on the ACLU’s attempt to assess damages against Kim Davis.”