October 28, 2014

State Judge in Abortion Ruling Has Activist Past

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CAPITOL WATCH

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M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.

 

 

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the last year that Bill Graves served in the Legislature. He served from 1989 to 2004.


The judge who ruled against a Norman doctor challenging a state law restricting abortions authored more than a dozen pieces of anti-abortion legislation when he was a state representative, legislative records show.

In 2001, when he was a Republican state legislator in northwest Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County District Judge Bill Graves wrote that abortion caused more carnage than Nazi Germany.

Last week, Graves ruled against a challenge to a new state law that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Norman physician Dr. Larry Burns filed the lawsuit. Burns said the law, set to go into effect on Nov. 1, would force him to shut down his practice. Burns said he applied for admitting privileges at more than a dozen hospitals but was refused.

Graves ruled against Burns, saying Burns didn’t file his request for admitting privileges on a timely basis.

Graves has a long history of anti-abortion statements. Documents show that during his tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature, Graves voted for, authored or co-authored more than a dozen pieces of legislation designed to restrict abortion.

From 1997 until 2001, Graves authored legislation that, among other things, would have required informed consent for patients seeking an abortion and  would have prevented the sale, prescription, dispensing or distribution of mifepristone, also known as RU-486.

Graves served in the Legislature from 1989 until 2004. In 2001 Graves penned a 58-page article for Regent University’s law school that examined “the impact of evolutionary theory on the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in social areas.”

Graves’ article called for “a return to the Biblical foundations upon which the Founders built America” and suggested how the American people could “reclaim their republic from the hands of the judicial oligarchy known as the United States Supreme Court.”

Graves’ work, published several years before he became a member of the judiciary, noted that the lawmaker was “an advocate of the pro-life and home school causes.”

In the article, Graves wrote that abortion was carnage that exceeded the Holocaust against Jews during World War II.

“Since then (in 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade ruling), America has exceeded the carnage of both Carthage and Rome — and even Nazi Germany — with approximately forty million abortions,” he wrote.

Graves also wrote that the Supreme Court committed “a monstrous crime against unborn children” with the Roe decision.

Brady Henderson, an attorney for the Oklahoma branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Grave’s past public position on abortion could be a concern for some who appear in his courtroom.

“I would be one of the first people who would have a concern about Judge Graves,” Henderson said. “His legislation could raise red flags.”

Kate Bernyk, a spokeswoman for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which assisted Burns in the lawsuit, declined to comment on Graves’ abortion views, but said the group did not ask Graves to recuse himself from the case.

“ We did not file any motions requesting a recusal in the case. Unfortunately, we can’t comment further than that,” Bernyk said.

Graves said he was unbiased in his ruling. “I’m against murder. Does that mean that I shouldn’t hear a criminal case?” he asked.

Graves declined to comment further. “Everything that I wanted to say is in my order,” he said.

Oklahoma’s Code of Judicial Conduct states that judges “should not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.”

The code also requires judges to “perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice” and says that “a judge should not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status.”

In 2008, Graves sent a letter to the Oklahoma Bar Association sharply criticizing the group for its decision to follow the American Bar Association’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

Graves’ letter said the policies were “not based on laws enacted by Congress or the state Legislature, but on proposals of the liberal, pro-homosexual American Bar Association.”

Later in 2008, after Graves’ letter to the OBA became public, District Judge Vicki Robertson reassigned Graves from criminal to probate cases, which meant reassignment of more than 2,400 criminal cases to other judges.

Reach reporter Scott Carter at scarter@oklahomawatch.org


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  • Christine Reid

    I’m dismayed at this article and not sure exactly what Mr. Carter’s point is: That judges aren’t allowed to have strongly held religious beliefs? That judges aren’t supposed to have any convictions at all? I believe as long as Judge Graves fairly applied the law to the facts before him, his personal beliefs are irrelevant and I saw nothing in Mr. Carter’s sparse reporting of the actual circumstances of his ruling that would suggest otherwise. I so tire of journalists who try to paint anyone who has the temerity to hold the personal belief that abortion is murder as an uneducated, lunatic buffoon unworthy of public office. I can only hope that a judge who was an openly pro-abortion “activist” before he or she took the bench (pretty sure there are a few of those out there) will receive this same level of scrutiny from Mr. Carter after issuing a ruling on this particular law.

  • Mike Ray

    Members of the United States Supreme Court recuse themselves from cases in which there is a perceived or actual conflict of interest. If Justices of the nation’s highest court are held to that standard, surely a district court judge in Oklahoma City should be, too. During a 12-year period ending in 2004, when he left the House of Representatives because of term limits, Bill Graves authored 11 anti-abortion measures and co-authored two more, supported nine other anti-abortion measures, and introduced at least two anti-abortion amendments. (This can be confirmed by reviewing House Journals in the State Capitol library.) My dad taught me that perception is reality — and there is ample evidence to support the perception that Judge Bill Graves is not impartial when it comes to the subject of abortion. Anyone who believes Bill Graves set aside his personal beliefs when ruling against the Norman physician is delusional.