The Maryland State Bar Association finds calls for the impeachment of Judge Brooke Murdock inappropriate and they reflect a misunderstanding of our system of law. No basis in fact or law exists to support any suggestion to impeach Judge Murdock for her recent decision on same sex marriage. Lawsuits sometimes ask very tough legal questions. In Deane and Polyak et al. v. Frank Conaway et al. (Baltimore City Circuit Court, Case No. 24-C-04-005390), nineteen Maryland citizen plaintiffs asked the Court to find a Maryland statute denying marriage licenses to same sex couples unconstitutional under the Maryland Declaration of Rights, particularly the Equal Rights Amendment ratified by Maryland voters in November 1972. The question inflames deeply felt religious, social, and personal passions on both sides of an answer.
Circuit Judge Brooke Murdock held, "after much study and serious reflection, this Court holds that Maryland's statutory prohibition against same-sex marriage cannot withstand this constitutional challenge…because it discriminates based on gender."
Most reporting of that decision has been fair and evenhanded to this point. However, calls for impeachment of the Judge are not appropriate and indicate some misunderstanding of our system of law.
Judge Murdock was obligated by the oath she swore when she became a judge to make a legal decision on this tough question when the lawsuit was assigned to her. She did not seek the case. The case was assigned to her. Her first responsibility was to insure that the opposing parties in the lawsuit had a full and equal opportunity to present to her the facts and the legal arguments supporting their opposing answer to the question. She did so, with the courtesy and dignity the American courtroom demands of its citizens. Her responsibility next included analyzing the facts, research, study and careful consideration of the constitutional law precedents applicable to those facts. She did so.
Judge Murdock's written decision described the challenge always facing our independent judiciary not to be swayed by public opinion: "The Court is not unaware of the dramatic impact of its ruling, but it must not shy away from deciding significant legal issues when fairly presented to it for judicial determination."
Plaintiffs are elated; defendants are disappointed, even infuriated. All of us, whatever our opinions of the answer, should acknowledge the legal process, the parties' respect for the rule of law, and the freedom-protecting constitutional framework in which it was made. And all of us should recognize the importance of public servants like Judge Murdock who must make hard decisions. The process of judicial decision making in this country, from our first Independence Day to this decision, has made our country a beacon of justice to the world. The process is not perfect, but it is the best process realized by the collected wisdom of the ages.
Judge Murdock's answer is not final. The Maryland Court of Appeals will almost certainly accept certiorari – that is appellate review – of her decision. That highest Court in the State will review the factual and legal record in Judge Murdock's trial court and once again afford the opposing parties an opportunity to argue their legal positions before the court. The seven members of the appellate Court will research the law, study its application to the facts and reach an opinion on this challenging question. The majority's decision will be announced in due course. In the end, people on one side of the question will be elated and, on the other, disappointed. We urge both sides to remember through their beliefs and passions, our values and respect for the rule of law, due process, and the ongoing challenge of balancing conflicting freedoms. Most importantly, we remember and respect the dedicated and independent judges who work to protect those cherished values.
Judge Murdock performed her job in a professional and judicially appropriate manner, whether one favors her decision or not. Suggestions of impeachment are counterproductive to the rule of law and the outstanding legal system at work daily in our country. Legitimate, healthy debate of the substantive issue should not include, or be diverted to, ideas of impeachment.
By Michael Conroy, President