A Travis County judge has thrown out McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley’s lawsuit against the state panel that sanctioned her in 2019 for refusing to perform same-sex weddings.
Judge Jan Soifer of Austin’s 459th State District Court listed a variety of reasons for dismissing the lawsuit. She ruled that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has sovereign and statutory immunity from the claims and that Hensley failed to exhaust other legal remedies before filing her lawsuit.
Neither Hensley nor her attorney, Jeremy Dys of the First Liberty Institute, returned phone messages Monday from the Tribune-Herald.
In dismissing the suit, Soifer also ordered Hensley to pay court costs associated with her lawsuit. Hensley initially filed the suit in McLennan County, but commission attorneys David Schleicher and Mike McKetta succeeded in getting it moved to Travis County.
Schleicher, of Waco, and McKetta, of Austin, both declined comment Monday on the dismissal.
Hensley, a justice of the peace for six years, officiates weddings between men and women but refuses to perform weddings for same-sex couples, saying it goes against her “Bible-believing” Christian conscience. Her lawsuit claims the agency violated state law by punishing her for actions she took in accordance with her religious beliefs.
In issuing its sanction against Hensley — a public warning — the commission said Hensley has refused to perform same-sex weddings since August 2016, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision a year earlier that established constitutional rights to same-sex marriage.
The commission said Hensley is violating the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct by “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.”
Hensley, who has said she is entitled to a “religious exemption,” filed her claims under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act under the backing of the First Liberty Institute, a high-profile religious liberty law firm based in Plano.
Hensley has said that she, along with most all of the county’s JPs, stopped performing any weddings on legal advice from the county so as not to appear that those who chose not to perform same-sex weddings were discriminating against same-sex couples.
While most local JPs still do not perform weddings, Hensley chose to resume performing ceremonies, but only for heterosexual couples. She has said her office declines same-sex weddings because of her religious beliefs but refers those couples to Justice of the Peace David Pareya, of West, or others in the county who will officiate their weddings.
Hensley was seeking at least $10,000 in damages, including lost income when she stopped performing all weddings in response to the commission’s investigation and sanction. She also asked for a declaratory judgment that the commission and its members violated her religious rights and applied for class-action status to allow any justice of the peace the freedom to decline to officiate at same-sex weddings while performing those of heterosexual couples.