Video: Judge who denied interracial marriage under fire

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    >>> the government of louisiana has joined the growing chorus calling for the ouster of a justice of the peace who refused to marry an interracial couple. beth humphrey and terrence mckay are considering legal option now. humphrey called keith bardwell on october 6th to ask about a marriage license, and that's when bardwell's wife told her her husband will not marry interracial couples .

    >> i wasn't going to argue with her. i just said did you know someone who will? and she said i would have to go to another parish.

    >> i'm joined by karen desoto, former prosecutor to tell us about this. in terms of a job description , can a justice of the peace pick and choose who he chooses to marry?

    >> no. a justice of the peace, if they're being funded by tax dollars, then no, they can't discriminate based on sex/race. now, a priest from a church, let's say, can discriminate at will. however, if you're being funded by tax dollars, it's a little bit different, and that's why he has to take an oath as a public official and avail himself to both the state and federal constitution , and of course, civil rights .

    >> given the fact this was decided by a state supreme court case in the commonwealth of virginia in 1967 , allowing bi-racial couples to marry, duh.

    >> that was a while ago.

    >> how many decades ago? so, at this point, what would the charges be if they decide to go?

    >> interestingly enough, many states have -- it can rise to actual criminal offense with misconduct, ethics violation if you're a public official and you knowingly violate the law. now, i don't know if louisiana is one of those places who do that, but many states do. it would be considered misconduct and you could be filed criminally.

    >> that's criminal, but civilly.

    >> civilly, you have, oh, let me count the ways . constitutional violations, civil rights violations, and then, of course, on top of that, ethics violations for him.

    >> emotional distress? do you throw that in there as well? will that decide how much --

    >> now you're compensating the damages already from year to year. what's great in this case is with civil rights violations and constitutional violations, there's a fee shifting with your attorney's fees. so, one of the reasons for that is because the legislature wants its people to bring these cases and file complaints. so, basically, if you win, you get your attorney's fees for free.

    >> yeah.

    >> so, attorneys like myself can go and put their hard work and time into it and know that they're going to get their attorney's fees at the end of the day.

    >> okay. do you think this situation has legs? i mean, do you think this is the kind of situation where a couple will be advised either on their own or by other attorneys --

    >> right.

    >> -- in the region will say, you have a case, let's go?

    >> oh, i think that anyone who knows that, obviously, somebody's telling you you can't get married because of racial issues, right there you know that you have a case because everybody knows inherently that that's wrong. therefore, we've designed many years since 1967 of all kinds of laws -- state, federal, to protect people from this type of ignorance.

    >> okay. karen desoto, thank you for clearing it up for us. appreciate it.

updated 10/16/2009 7:22:39 PM ET 2009-10-16T23:22:39

Louisiana’s governor and a U.S. senator joined Friday in calling for the ouster of a local official who refused to marry an interracial couple, saying his actions clearly broke the law.

Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, refused to issue a marriage license earlier this month to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black. His refusal has prompted calls for an investigation or resignation from civil and constitutional rights groups and the state’s Legislative Black Caucus.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement a nine-member commission that reviews lawyers and judges in the state should investigate.

“Disciplinary action should be taken immediately — including the revoking of his license,” Jindal said.

Bardwell did not return calls left on his answering machine Friday.

Bardwell has said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past and he doesn’t marry the couples because he’s worried about their children’s futures.

Another Obama?
“Perhaps he’s worried the kids will grow up and be president,” said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Obama’s deputy press secretary Bill Burton echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good,” Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Texas.

Humphrey and McKay were eventually married by another justice of the peace, but are now looking into legal action against Bardwell.

Humphrey said she called Bardwell on Oct. 6 to ask about a marriage license. She said Bardwell’s wife told her that Bardwell would not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples.

Bardwell maintains he can recuse himself from marrying people. Quigley disagreed.

“A justice of the peace is legally obligated to serve the public, all of the public,” Quigley said. “Racial discrimination has been a violation of Louisiana and U.S. law for decades. No public official has the right to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow.”

A spokeswoman for the Louisiana Judiciary Commission said investigations were confidential and would not comment. If the commission recommends action to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the matter would become public.

'A divisive stand'
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said in a statement Bardwell’s practices and comments were deeply disturbing.

“Not only does his decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long,” she said.

Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said Bardwell’s views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government.

“However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand,” Burgess said in an e-mail. “I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish.”

Bardwell, a Republican, has served as justice of peace for 34 years. He said he has run without opposition each time, but had decided earlier not to run again. His current term expires Dec. 31, 2014.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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