Groups seek removal of Kentucky judge over views on gay adoption

Reuters News
Posted: May 16, 2017 5:15 PM

By Tom James

(Reuters) - Civil liberties groups on Tuesday called for the removal of a Kentucky judge who gained national attention last month for announcing that he would refuse to hear cases involving lesbian, gay or bisexual adults hoping to adopt children.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups filed a complaint with Kentucky’s judicial conduct commission against W. Mitchell Nance, a judge in the state’s Family Court, and said in an emailed statement that they were seeking his dismissal from the bench.

“His discriminatory beliefs ... prevent him from fairly and impartially acting as a judge for all Kentuckians,” Kentucky ACLU Legal Director William Sharp said in the statement.

Staff reached by telephone at Nance’s office on Tuesday said they had been instructed to decline requests for comment on his behalf.

Nance made headlines in April when he announced that he would recuse himself from adoption cases involving same-sex couples because of his personal objections to gay couples adopting.

That echoed Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis' 2015 refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses because it violated her religious beliefs.

Nance’s refusal to hear cases involving such a broad group of individuals is highly unusual, said Russell Wheeler, a law professor at American University and a former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center who has studied recusal.

“He’s announcing he can’t be fair to a whole group of people,” Wheeler said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “The only thing you can say in his favor is that he’s honest enough to say that he’s biased.”

While it’s relatively common for judges to recuse themselves from individual cases in which they have conflicts of interest, Wheeler said he wasn’t aware of any other case where a judge had attempted such a broad recusal.

It’s generally accepted that judges will hold individual views about cases in front of them, including religious or other deeply-held beliefs, but the ability to set those views aside and consider cases impartially is one of the primary qualifications for a judge, Wheeler added.

(Reporting by Tom James; Editing by Patrick Enright and Cynthia Osterman)