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April 21, 2014

HAYDEN: Judges vouch for colleague behind same-sex marriage ruling

INDIANAPOLIS — When U.S. District Judge Richard Young recently ruled in favor of a lesbian couple seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage, opponents of same-sex unions called him an activist judge who was unilaterally trampling the law. The label didn’t resonate with those who know Young well.

Among them is Randall Shepard, the retired chief justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court. Shepard, who was appointed to the bench by a Republican, has known Young, a Democratic appointee, for more than 30 years.

“He’s a person of great rectitude,” said Shepard, describing the 60-year-old grandfather who’s been on the federal bench since 1998. “You don’t hear anybody question whether he’s partial or impartial.” 

Young prompted criticism with his April 10 decision to issue a temporary restraining order that requires Indiana to recognize the marriage of a couple from Munster. Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler wed in Massachusetts, one of 17 states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Young said he honored the request - over the objection of Attorney General Greg Zoeller — because Quasney is terminally ill with ovarian cancer, and her family wants access to federal and state benefits for surviving spouses and children.

His ruling narrowly applies to one couple. But it’s seen as a sign of what may come. Five lawsuits challenging Indiana’s law against same-sex marriage are pending in Young’s Evansville-based court.

Young didn’t seek them out. As a matter of protocol, four lawsuits were given to him after the first one was assigned on a random basis. Giving related cases to one judge allows the court to speak with a single voice.

“Judge Young isn’t in this position because he hung up a sign that said, ‘Hey, I want to be the one to make this decision,’ “ Shepard said.

Yet a federal judge’s involvement seemed inevitable. Since last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, more than 60 federal lawsuits have been filed challenging state laws that forbid same-sex marriage.

The cases arrived in Young’s court following the vote by Indiana’s GOP-controlled Legislature to support a resolution putting a same-sex marriage ban into the state Constitution.

Young has a partisan past. He was a college roommate of former U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, the Democrat who nominated him to the federal bench. He was active in local Democratic politics before he became a trial court judge in Vanderburgh County. He was appointed to the bench by Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Shepard has a partisan past, too. As a young man, he served as top aide to a popular Republican mayor in Evansville. Twice he unsuccessfully sought a seat in the Indiana House. He was appointed to the state’s high court by former Gov. Bob Orr, a Republican.

But Shepard said Young has never been thought of an aggressive partisan - off or on the bench. “He was never party to any sort of unseemly political dialogue that is too common in the present day,” Shepard said.

He’s not the only vouching for Young. Retired state Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan calls him “careful and thoughtful in his decisions, always deciding the case on the law and proven facts as he understood them.”

Both retired jurists noted Young’s good humor and ability to deflect criticism with grace.

Those virtues are likely to come in handy. Young’s emergency order expires in early May, when a hearing is scheduled for additional arguments in the case. Those pending lawsuits are likely to be consolidated into one case, and could be decided as early as June.

— Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com. Follow her on Twitter @MaureenHayden

 

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