Judge in Indiana gay marriage case says federal judges can't let public opinion affect rulings


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EVANSVILLE, Indiana — The federal judge who struck down Indiana's gay marriage ban said he's well aware his decision upset some people, but that federal judges can't let public opinion sway their decisions.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young said it's for the common good that federal judges are immune to political pressure, indifferent to opinion polls and not beholden even to the politicians who appoint them. That freedom allows them to concern themselves only with the cases before them, he said.

"You determine the facts, and you apply the facts to the law," he told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1ohqUPE ). "Our forefathers, in determining that federal judges have lifetime tenure and should be isolated from politics, turns out to be a very wise decision."

Young ruled last Wednesday that Indiana's same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. His ruling allowed hundreds of gay and lesbian couples around the state to obtain marriage licenses around Indiana, and many of them were wed.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay Friday putting Young's ruling — and county clerks' ability to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples — on hold.

Young said his office received "a significant number of calls" after his ruling, but staff members handled those calls.

"I haven't talked to anybody, but they call in and, you know, we're here to serve the public and we can't ignore those calls. We have to answer them, talk to them, and listen," the judge said.

Young has a ready answer for anyone who might believe his ruling was judicial activism at its worst.

"They call it judicial activism if they don't agree with the decision," he said. "If they agree with the decision, then it's certainly not judicial activism. That means the judge is following the law and doing the right thing."

Young began his career not in courtrooms but in Democratic Party politics, when he helped with then-Sen. Birch Bayh's 1976 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The 61-year-old Iowa native has voted in Democratic primaries several times during his 24 years on the state and federal benches. He cast his last such ballot in 2008, the year Indiana's Democratic presidential primary assumed a pivotal role in the nomination battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"Coming in to Evansville, not knowing a whole lot of people, becoming involved in politics was a way for me to meet a lot of people with similar interests," he said Friday.

Young was nominated for the federal bench in 1997 by then-President Bill Clinton to succeed retiring federal judge Gene E. Brooks. He took office in March 1998 after approval by the Senate.


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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