Federal district court judge Clark Waddoups has once again struck down a portion of the state of Utah’s ban on the practice of polygamy, in a case involving the real-life family of television’s “Sister Wives” reality show which airs on TLC. The plaintiffs in this case are Kody Brown and his four wives Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn.
Last year in a truly historic decision, Judge Waddoups struck down the state’s ban on polygamy, only to later rescind his decision. Today, Judge Waddoups once again struck down Utah’s ban on the practice, citing both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments.
In today’s court ruling, Judge Waddoups wrote that the ban on the practice of polygamy “is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase ‘or cohabits with another person’ is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Interestingly, Judge Waddoups, is a graduate of Brigham Young University (a private college founded, supported, and guided by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and the law school of the University of Utah. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed in September of 2008.
Polygamy was practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890 by up to 30 percent of LDS church members in the US in the 19th century. In 1890, LDS church president Wilford Woodruff issued a Manifesto that officially terminated the practice of polygamy. Although this Manifesto did not dissolve existing plural marriages, relations between the church and the United States government immediately improved, and as a result, Utah was finally admitted as a U.S. state.
Attorney Jonathan Turley argued for the plaintiffs. He noted that today’s ruling gives the Brown family “a clear sweep on all counts,” and specifically addresses “the Section 1983 claim that state officials (including prosecutor Jeffrey R. Buhman) violated the constitutional rights of the Brown family throughout years of criminal investigation and public accusations.”
In response to today’s ruling, Turley wrote: “On behalf of the Brown family and the legal team, I must thank Judge Waddoups who has shown incredible fairness and integrity throughout this case. His decision in this case required a singular act of courage and principle as the first court to strike down the criminalization of polygamy. In doing so, Judge Waddoups reaffirmed the independence of our courts and stood against open prejudice and hostility toward plural families.”
It is suspected that Utah Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes, who is fighting to retain his position in the upcoming November election, will most likely appeal the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.