Appalachian School of Law
in the News
In a recent article, The Bristol Herald Courier quoted Appalachian School of Law Professor Stewart Harris on the case involving Virginia’s Attorney General and his decision on a controversial same-sex marriage statute.
Good job, Stewart!
AG’s announcement met with sharply divided reactions
BY ALLIE ROBINSON GIBSON
BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Thursday’s news that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional shows how elections are important, a local law professor said.
“Elections matter,” said Stewart Harris, who teaches constitutional law at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. “That is what this tells us.”
The announcement was met by sharply divided reactions, as some applauded Herring’s move to join other states in supporting same sex marriage and some said he was going against his duty to uphold the state’s constitution. Virginians voted in 2006 to amend the constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
The race between Democrat Herring and Republican Mark Obenshain for the attorney general seat entered a recount process because the margin of votes was so close. Harris said the position of attorney general is a powerful one.
“Often, what the attorney general decides is what position to take on important legal cases,” Harris said, adding that Herring and his predecessor are very different. “We’re seeing a 180-degree turn.”
Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican who lost his gubernatorial bid, was adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage, while Herring, a Democrat, said Thursday that he wants to be on the “right side of history and the right side of the law” when he joined two federal lawsuits challenging the ban. “What could ultimately happen is, [one of the cases] goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could decide if the Virginia constitution is itself unconstitutional. Even the state constitution has to comply with the federal constitution,” Harris said. “It’s possible this could be the case that defines a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.”
But if that’s the case, it would be years away, he added.
For now, the declaration is an indicator of what can be expected from Herring, not even a full month into his tenure as the state’s top attorney.
One state legislator, a Republican, and a federal lawmaker, a Democrat, were divided on the issue.
“In 2006, the people of Virginia spoke on this matter when we passed the constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman for our commonwealth,” said state Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City. “This has been the law in Virginia and should not be changed. The primary role of Virginia’s Attorney General is to protect and defend the laws and the constitution of the Commonwealth, regardless of his own political beliefs. General Herring’s announcement this morning is troubling, and shows a complete disregard for Virginia law and a key responsibility in his new role as attorney general.” U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat and former governor, applauded Herring’s stance.
“As governor, I opposed this discriminatory amendment and agree it’s time for Virginia to be on the right side of history with respect to marriage rights,” Kaine said in a written statement.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.