Annapolis demagoguery

Our view: Lawmakers were right to reject a bid to impeach the attorney general

April 03, 2010

There never was much likelihood that the House of Delegates would impeach Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler for his opinion recommending that Maryland can recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions are legal. As the state's top legal officer, it's part of the attorney general's job to advise the governor and lawmakers on what the law requires. It would be perverse indeed if the lawful performance of that duty were then to become a cause for removing him from office.

Yet that's clearly the outcome Del. Don H. Dwyer had in mind this week when he introduced articles of impeachment against Mr. Gansler and demanded an immediate vote on the measure in the 141-member House of Delegates. Delegate Dwyer, a Republican from Anne Arundel County, accused Mr. Gansler of wrongly overturning the state's previous policy on same-sex unions and suggested the matter was so urgent that it should be given special status exempting it from the normal House rules of procedure.

To his credit, House Speaker Michael E. Busch did allow a procedural vote in the full chamber on the status of Mr. Dwyer's resolution; the body voted 101-39 to send it to the Judiciary Committee, of which Mr. Dwyer is a member. That panel rejected the impeachment articles 15-5. Mr. Dwyer was so incensed by the full chamber's refusal to consider the measure that he refused to even participate in the committee debate, saying to do so would "validate" what he called a "kangaroo court."

Let's be clear: Mr. Dwyer never claimed that the attorney general acted unlawfully by giving Gov. Martin O'Malley his best legal advice on how Maryland should treat same-sex couples married in other states. A state senator had asked Mr. Gansler to draft an official position last year, and the opinion Mr. Gansler came up with in February was a model of clarity and sound legal reasoning based on long-established legal principles.

Nor did Mr. Dwyer offer any concrete evidence that in reaching a conclusion different from that of previous attorneys general, Mr. Gansler had in any way violated his oath of office or the public trust. Mr. Dwyer sought Mr. Gansler's impeachment solely because he disagreed with the substance of his opinion on gay marriage.

Lawmakers would have been right to view impeachment skeptically even if Mr. Gansler's office had not already issued an "advice letter" to House Speaker Busch stating that, under Maryland's constitution, the General Assembly doesn't have the authority to impeach the attorney general - an opinion that under any other circumstances might appear self-serving. But in this case it only underscored the common-sense principle that a public official can't be removed from office merely for performing the lawful duties of that office.

Whether or not one agrees with the conclusions reached in Mr. Gansler's opinion, the proper place to hold officials accountable for their performance on the job is at the ballot box. Mr. Dwyer's antics on the House floor were obviously calculated to elicit cheers from the crowd of his supporters sitting in a gallery above the chamber. But in the end it's hard not to see the whole impeachment kerfuffle as anything other than a politically inspired spectacle that, deservedly, failed spectacularly.

Readers respond
The dismissal by the House of Delegates' Democratic leadership of Del. Don Dwyer's motion for a full floor vote on the impeachment of Attorney General Douglas Gansler marks a monumental departure from the law of the land: the Maryland Constitution.

The subversive tactics employed by the elected officials are unprecedented. The very foundation of our society is being systematically dismantled.

Mr. Gansler is nothing more than a scapegoat for the real issue at hand: the legislature's failure to resolve the issue of homosexual marriage.

Their complacency is a disgrace to the institution; it is the elected officials who have stood in the way of a vote on this issue who should be facing articles of impeachment. They have failed to perform their duty and have willfully neglected their obligation to represent the people of Maryland.

Joshua P. Shumway, Pasadena

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