Texas governor accused of removing appointees for upholding the law

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Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) removed two of his own appointees from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for voting to sanction a judge who refused to perform same-sex marriages.

Two appointees to the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct claim Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) removed them from their posts because they were not sufficiently anti-LGBTQ.

The independent commission is "responsible for investigating allegations of judicial misconduct and judicial disability." Five of its 13 members are selected by the governor, subject to confirmation by the Texas Senate.

In June 2018, Abbott appointed Amy Suhl and Maricela Alvarado and they each served for nine months while awaiting confirmation votes.

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Abbott then withdrew the nominations — a move the Houston Chronicle described as "extremely uncommon." Only one other nominee has been withdrawn for any reason other than death since 2017, according to the paper.

Suhl and Alvarado claimed to Hearst Newspapers that the reason for their removal was their vote to sanction a Waco judge, Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley (R), who had refused to provide equal treatment to LGBTQ people. Hensley has specifically refused to perform marriages for same-sex couples, but performs them for opposite-sex couples.

Texas Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges act "impartially."

The Supreme Court's landmark 2015 Obergefell decision made it clear that the Constitution requires the government treat same-sex marriage equally. The vocally anti-LGBTQ Abbott denounced that ruling at the time and vowed to protect the right of Texans "whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman."

Suhl claims to have recorded conversations with Abbott's staff in which they pressured her on the case.

"When we appoint people, we appreciate so much that people are willing to serve and hope that people understand that they’re serving the governor, not themselves," a staffer told her.

Suhl told Hearst that their removals appeared to be an effort by Abbott's office to sway other commissioners to "vote they way they want."

In the end, Hensley was let off with a public warning, rather than a more serious punishment.

Abbott's office did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the allegations. But a spokesperson for Abbott told Hearst, "All appointment decisions are made based solely on merit."

Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, blasted Abbott in a press statement on Thursday.

"Appointees swear an oath to serve the people of Texas, not any politician or political party," he said.

Under Abbott, he added, "Texans are disrespected, the rule of law is ignored, and working people are denied the opportunities they deserve."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.