Back in 2010, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly (70 percent!) to amend their state constitution to ban the consideration of Sharia law. Well, late Thursday, a federal judge in Oklahoma City threw it out on First Amendment grounds.
In finding the law in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the certification of the results of the state question that put the Sharia law ban into the state constitution.The full ruling is available at the ACLU site.
"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out, the Court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the judge wrote.
Just 48 hours after the election, Muneer Awad, the then-executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, sued on the grounds that the so-called "Save Our State" amendment violated the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses. He was later joined by four other plaintiffs.
Miles-LaGrange gave a pretty loud hint of where she was going in a preliminary injunction issued on November 29, 2010, in which she hinted that the amendment was indeed unconstitutional, and that Awad's First Amendment rights would be irreparably harmed if the law were allowed to take effect. This ruling was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which preemptively demolished the all-but-certain claims of judicial activism by saying, "When the law that voters wish to enact is likely unconstitutional, their interests do not outweigh Mr. Awad's in having his constitutional rights protected."
In her ruling, Miles-LaGrange found that the amendment was a solution in search of a problem.
Miles-LaGrange found "that any harm that would result from permanently enjoining the certification of the election results is further minimized in light of the undisputed fact that the amendment at issue was to be a preventative measure and that the concern that it seeks to address has yet to occur."She also determined that merely striking out the anti-Sharia provisions was not an option. Not only did the pro-amendment campaign harp exclusively on the Sharia provisions, but she also determined that it would have neither been passed by the legislature nor approved by the voters had those provisions not been there. Most damningly, she pointed out that the portion about "legal precepts of other nations and cultures" was not included in the ballot title. Therefore, striking out the anti-Sharia provisions would result in amending the Oklahoma constitution by implication, which is forbidden.
She pointed out in a footnote that attorneys defending the amendment at the November 2010 preliminary injunction hearing admitted that "they did not know of any instance where an Oklahoma court had applied Sharia law or used the legal precepts of other nations or cultures."
While there's no word yet on whether Oklahoma will appeal, the prospects don't look that great for this decision to be overturned. According to Wikipedia, of the ten active judges on the 10th Circuit, five were appointed by Republicans (one by Bush 41, four by Bush 43). And two more Obama appointees are pending in the Senate.
10:08 AM PT: Since this made the rec list, I thought I'd mention that the wingnuts howled when Miles-LaGrange issued her initial injunction in 2010. One pastor changed his church sign to call for her impeachment, and a state representative tabled a resolution calling for her impeachment. So you can bet this ruling is going to cause Oklahoma's wingers to go into full meltdown.