Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas said late Tuesday that he will consider Florida attorney general Pam Bondi’s petition to extend a hold on marriage equality in the state, and he has asked plaintiffs’ attorneys to present their arguments for lifting the stay by Thursday.
Bondi announced Monday that she was seeking an extension of the stay placed on a federal district judge’s pro-equality ruling. The stay was set to expire at the end of the day January 5, allowing same-sex couples to being marrying in Florida January 6, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals this month denied Bondi's request for an extension. Bondi wants the stay to continue during the state’s appeal of Judge Robert Hinkle’s August ruling or, alternatively, until the Supreme Court decides whether to take up one of the four cases stemming from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to uphold marriage bans in four states.
Justice Thomas, who oversees the 11th Circuit, could decide on his own whether to extend the stay or involve the rest of the justices. Other justices have turned down similar requests from various states, but Thomas “has indicated in previous, similar cases that he would have granted a stay,” Elizabeth Schwartz, an attorney in a separate Florida marriage equality case, told the Sun Sentinel newspaper.
Thomas is likely to rule quickly, although there is no deadline for his decision. “I don’t think anyone was surprised that [Thomas] asked for more information, and I think it’s also likely he’ll want to continue this with the full court,” Schwartz told the paper. “I do think they’ll rule on it possibly on Friday.”
In another Florida marriage development, the state’s contention that Hinkle’s ruling applies only to one county got backing from a prominent law firm Tuesday. Greenberg Traurig, which represents the association of Florida’s 67 court clerks, said the decision is binding only on Washington County, the only county named in the case, the Tampa Bay Times reports. The firm said clerks in other counties could face misdemeanor charges for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Some attorneys contested Greenberg Traurig’s advice, which if followed could lead to a situation like that in Kansas, where not all counties are licensing same-sex marriages, despite rulings striking down the state’s ban on such unions. Betsy White, an attorney representing the couples in the case, told the Times the firm’s contention “is dead wrong” and could give rise to more lawsuits, potentially one in every county.
“If certain clerks are going to take the position that they’re not bound by Judge Hinkle’s decision, then we’ll be going back to the court and asking those parties to be included,” White added.