Norris questioned on gay marriage at hearing on confirmation as U.S. judge; no vote taken

Tennessee state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, nominated for a federal judgeship in West Tennessee, told U.S. senators Wednesday he considers the legality of same-sex marriage to be a settled issue and that he would follow it as a precedent if confirmed to the bench, reports Michael Collins.

The Senate Judiciary Committee took no vote Wednesday on whether to confirm President Donald Trump’s nomination of Norris, R-Colliervile, leaving that to another meeting.  Norris has supported state legislation that critics argue would undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling that legalized gay marriage in 2015.

He also was one of the leading sponsors of a state resolution calling for a federal Constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. (Note: The apparent reference is to SJR27 back in 2003, which had then-Sen.  David Fowler, now head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee and a staunch opponent of gay marriage, as prime sponsor and Norris as a co-sponsor.)

Norris’ prior statements on gay marriage are often cited by groups opposing his nomination to become a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Tennessee, which includes Memphis and the surrounding counties.

At his confirmation hearing Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., referred to his comments about gay marriage and asked whether he considers gay marriage settled law and whether he would follow it as binding precedent.

“Yes, senator, it is, and I will,” Norris said during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The question now, Norris said, is what role, if any, the courts should have in rewriting state statutes that were stricken down by the Supreme Court decision.

“If the statute is no longer constitutional under Obergefell, should it not come back to the General Assembly then to legislate the replacement or the alternative or is it appropriate for the court to interject its thinking?” Norris asked. “And that seems to be the focus under way now in Tennessee.”

Note: Norris was also a co-sponsor of legislation leading to the 2006 passage by voters of an amendment to the state Constitution that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both praised Norris before the committee and urged that he be confirmed. Their press release comments are below.

Press release from Sen. Bob Corker

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) today introduced Tennessee State Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Tennessee. A transcript of the senator’s remarks at the hearing follows.

“Mr. Chairman, ranking member and those of the committee, I want to thank you today for allowing me to be here.

“And I’m honored to introduce the majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate, Mark Norris, who has been nominated by the president to serve as the United States District Court Judge for the Western District of Tennessee.

“I, too, want to thank Don McGahn for his professionalism and working with us to bring this highly qualified nominee forward.

“It is my pleasure to welcome Mark and all those who are supporting him, especially his wife, Chris, who is with him today. I’m sure he will introduce her and his entire family who is here to support him.

“Mark attended Colorado College as an undergraduate and later obtained his law degree from the University of Denver.

“While he is probably most well-known for his dedicated public service in Tennessee, serving as a state senator for 16 years – something that I greatly appreciate because of the way he has presented himself and worked hard on behalf of our state – but he also has practiced law for more than three decades.

“He has significant experience as a civil litigator, having litigated cases both in trial and appellate courts, as well as before the United States Supreme Court.

“In addition to his professional distinctions, Mark has long demonstrated a commitment to his community by serving in various leadership roles throughout Shelby County and the city of Memphis.

“As we all know, there is a difference between the role of a policymaker and that of a judge, and I am confident that Mark understands that the proper role of a judge is to decide the case before him based on the law and the facts alone.

“I know Mark will faithfully uphold the Constitution, and I believe his experience will greatly benefit the Western District.

“I wholeheartedly support his nomination, and thank the committee for holding this hearing, and encourage my colleagues to support his confirmation.

“Thank you very much.”

Press release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 1, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today introduced Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris at his confirmation hearing to be a U.S. District Judge for Tennessee’s Western District before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It is my special and personal pleasure to introduce Senator Norris to the committee today. ..I want to take this opportunity to express my strong support for his nomination,” Alexander said. “He knows what a Senate is because he serves in one — he is the majority leader of the Tennessee State Senate. He knows what a Judiciary Committee is because he was once vice chairman of one in the Tennessee State Senate.

Alexander continued, “He is respected by his peers around the country, having been elected chairman of the Council of State Governments, and has been an advocate and a champion for federalism and for the separation of powers. He is a citizen, a lawyer and a legislator, and I have known him for many years — since I was the governor of Tennessee.

“Mark Norris will be a tremendous asset to the federal bench, in my opinion. Tennessee is fortunate President Trump nominated such a well-qualified nominee.”

After President Trump announced Norris’ nomination on July 13, Alexander said, “Tennessee will be well-served by a man of such good character and good temperament.”

Note: An expanded version of Alexander’s press release, including text of his remarks and link to a video, is HERE.

 

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