Commentary

The other day, a federal court in Texas struck down another of President Obama’s recent executive orders. This one required public schools to permit transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin had already announced that this state would join in the case as it is appealed through the federal system. I disagree with Bevin’s decision to do that. In time, it seems likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will wipe away all distinctions based on gender identity, just as they have on race, national origin, sex and religious beliefs.

But that moment hasn’t come yet, so Kentucky links arms with other reactionary states in opposing the president – and in seeking to restrain another phase of civil rights progress, at least for now.

Opposing LGBT rights is by no means a Republican thing, although some would say that. Just two years ago, Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear fought federal Judge John Heyburn’s same-sex marriage ruling in court. The Supreme Court upheld the late judge, who was known for his good sense and humor. He gently dismissed Beshear’s challenge as political. In my estimation, so is Gov. Bevin’s.

Still, for now, the Texas ruling is the law of the land. Gov. Bevin’s action, then, is legally sound.

His recent attitude toward court proceedings related to his shakeup of the University of Louisville board of trustees, however, is not.

That executive action led to the resignation of embattled President James Ramsey and the dismissal of the Board of Trustees, which had been divided over Ramsey’s governance of U of L.

In time, the governor appointed a new board. But Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a temporary injunction making those appointments invalid pending the outcome of a more substantial legal challenge. In the meantime, the judge said, the old board should continue to serve.

Keith Runyon

Keith Runyon

There are almost daily developments in this drama, what with two boards trying to meet, the ex-president trying to hold onto control of the cash-rich university foundation, and the political fortunes of the state’s top Democrat and Republican up in the air.

Most of this is entertaining. But when Gov. Bevin suggested last week that the board he appointed meet in defiance of the judge’s temporary restraining order, he crossed a line.

In our system of checks and balances, respect for our courts of law as final arbiters of actions by executives and legislature has been consistent. This has survived all sorts of challenges, as far ranging as the Whiskey Rebellion, the Civil War, and Watergate,

Gov. Bevin’s attorney says Bevin really didn’t mean to defy the judge. But his words were clear, and the threat was real. Some may regard our governor’s periodic outbursts of arrogance and intemperance as signs of leadership. But respect for the courts and judges, whether you agree with their decisions or not, is a position every elected official must take. Those who do not deserve public rebuke.

Keith Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor of The Courier-Journal.

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