October 2019 Church & State Magazine | AU Bulletin

State officials in Kentucky have been ordered to pay nearly $230,000 in attorneys’ fees to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the case involving Kim Davis, a former clerk in Rowan County who refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Citing her personal religious beliefs, Davis refused to follow the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling upholding marriage equality. She ordered every clerk in her office to turn away same-sex couples and eventually stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely. She was lauded as a folk hero by far-right extremist groups for her stance, but several couples who had been denied licenses sued over the matter.

Davis lost in court but refused to obey the ruling, a stand that led her to spend some time in jail. In November 2018, voters in Rowan County removed her from office.

Under federal law, the ACLU lawyers who represented the couples who successfully sued Davis are allowed to recover attorneys’ fees. That figure now stands at $224,000. Ken­­tucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who formerly praised Davis as “an inspiration ... to the children of America,” didn’t want to pay it. In court, attorneys for the state argued that Davis was acting on her own and should be responsible for the bill.

A federal court disagreed, and the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in late August affirmed that ruling. The court, in a 3-0 decision, said Davis was operating as an agent of the state when she violated the rights of the couples she turned away, so the state must pay the bill. (Miller v. Caudill)

In a separate ruling issued the same day in Ermold v. Davis, the 6th Circuit ruled 2-1 that Davis cannot be sued for damages in her official capacity due to the immunity government officials receive. However, the court said she can be sued in a personal capacity.