Ordering the Courts: Right Wing Attacks on Judicial Independence in 2000

Vermont

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to the same legal rights and benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples. Though the court left it up to the state legislature to decide the best course of action to implement the decision, opponents of the ruling targeted the court, as well as those who ultimately supported the civil unions bill that resulted from the court’s ruling.

Shortly following the decision, thirteen Vermont lawmakers introduced a resolution urging the legislature to “ignore the Supreme Court's usurpation of legislative authority” and demanding that “no change in law occur” as a result of the decision.27 The resolution also sought to impeach the state Supreme Court justices who had voted for the decision. Rep. Nancy Sheltra led the group, claiming that the court’s decision subverted the legislature’s authority in violation of the Vermont Constitution’s separation of powers. “I’m very serious about the justices being impeached because they overstepped their constitutional boundaries,” Sheltra said.28 Shortly thereafter, she also organized a political action committee dedicated to electing legislative candidates committed to overturning the civil unions bill.

Sheltra’s “Standing Together and Reclaiming the State” (STARS) sought funds from around the nation and vowed to support only candidates who promised to: overturn the civil unions bill, support a constitutional amendment restricting the definition of marriage and its applicable rights to same-sex couples, oppose abortion, and vote for the impeachment of the Supreme Court justices who delivered the initial decision.29

Sheltra’s PAC was also loosely associated with Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry’s “Loyal Opposition,” a group that was similarly opposed to the civil unions bill. Terry arrived in Vermont in response to the ruling and set up shop in a storefront in downtown Montpelier, hanging a banner in his window calling for the impeachment of the Supreme Court justices. Though Terry achieved little and left town soon after the civil unions bill was passed, Sheltra was hoping to raise between $50,000 and $100,000 to recruit candidates to run against members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. According to the final financial disclosure report filed with the Vermont Secretary of State, Sheltra’s organization raised and spent less than $8,000. Although some lawmakers who supported the civil unions bill were defeated, no further action has occurred with respect to the impeachment demands.

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