U.S. judge affirms conservative voice with same-sex marriage vote

Fri Nov 7, 2014 9:21pm EST
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By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) - In 2011, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals surprised and disappointed many fellow conservatives by voting to uphold President Obama's healthcare overhaul.

On Thursday, he reaffirmed his standing as one of the U.S. judiciary's leading conservative voices by upholding laws against same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

In leading a 2-1 majority, in which he said the definition of marriage should be decided by voters and legislatures rather than unelected judges, Sutton made the 6th Circuit the first of five federal appeals courts to rule against same-sex marriage.

The decision substantially raises the likelihood the U.S. Supreme Court may decide the issue, perhaps in its current term.

And it also cements Sutton's status as a dedicated advocate for states' rights, one who has been thought of as a candidate for a Supreme Court vacancy in a Republican administration. The 54-year-old graduated from Ohio State University law school and clerked for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

"It improves his standing among conservatives, which he probably needed after the healthcare decision," said Dale Carpenter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota, referring to Thursday's decision. "The decision is probably the most well-written and reasoned opinion from a federal court rejecting same-sex marriage."

Sutton was nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2001, but strong opposition delayed his confirmation until 2003. The U.S. Senate vote for confirmation was 52-41.

During his confirmation hearing, Sutton explained that as a judge he would try to see the world in "other people's eyes."   Continued...