ANNAPOLIS – The House Judiciary Committee struck down articles of impeachment against Attorney General Douglas Gansler Wednesday afternoon at a hastily called hearing following a dramatic morning on the House floor.
Delegate Don Dwyer, R-Anne Arundel, brought charges against Gansler during the House’s morning session, citing “willful neglect of duty” in Gansler’s February opinion recognizing same-sex marriages from out of state.
Dwyer demanded a full vote on the House floor, but members voted against his proposal 101 to 39, upholding House Speaker Michael Busch’s move to send the issue to committee.
Dwyer argued that the state’s constitution gives the House “the sole power of impeachment in all cases,” but Busch, an Anne Arundel Democrat, said he followed House rules in moving the resolution to committee.
At the committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, Dwyer moved to return the charges to the House floor for a full-body vote. The committee rejected the motion, with only six members siding with Dwyer.
Dwyer was defiant before the committee, refusing to testify on the grounds that it would legitimize the proceedings.
He called the hearing “a kangaroo court,” insisting that the full House was the most appropriate venue to weigh the matter of impeachment.
Gansler was not present for either discussion. But Raquel Guillory, Gansler’s spokeswoman, said “this was a political stunt that never should have been allowed to take place.”
“This has been the job of our office for hundreds of years. It is our constitutional duty,” Guillory said of Gansler’s opinion.
Delegate Ben Barnes, D-Prince George’s, called Dwyer’s charges against Gansler “meritless” and “baseless,” and said Dwyer did not present specifics on how Gansler’s legal opinion constituted a violation of his oath of office.
Dwyer has not had many visible allies in his impeachment endeavors. No delegates testified at the hearing, including House Minority Leader Anthony O’Donnell, R-Calvert, who had spoken in support of Dwyer Wednesday morning on the House floor.
Delegate Luiz R. S. Simmons, D-Montgomery, said he was disappointed that Dwyer and other Republicans had “abandoned” real discussion after standing in solidarity during the morning House session.
All but five Judiciary Committee members voted that there were not sufficient grounds for Gansler’s removal by the legislature.
The committee vote essentially blocks Dwyer’s impeachment attempt, but Dwyer said he may attempt to return the resolution to the House floor.
Dwyer said he would not rule out bringing impeachment charges against Busch for favoring House procedure over the state’s constitution.
“The constitution supersedes everything,” Dwyer said.
Gansler issued his opinion in February in response to a request by Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery.
The opinion interpreted Maryland’s current law on recognizing marriages from out of state. The state recognizes marriages performed in other jurisdictions according to the “full faith and credit” clause of the U.S. Constitution, but makes no mention of how to address same-sex marriages.
Maryland law has defined marriage as between a man and a woman since 1973.
In more than a decade of bills on same-sex marriage, none has made it to the House floor. Dwyer has long sponsored constitutional amendments defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
This is the second time Dwyer has attempted to impeach a public official over the issue of same-sex marriage.
On March 7, 2006, Dwyer moved to impeach Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdoch after she ruled the state’s Equal Rights Amendment protected the right of gay couples to marry. Dwyer alleged that Murdoch had neglected her duty as a result of her ruling.
The resolution was referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which voted it down 19 to 3.
Simmons said Wednesday that a committee hearing was the most appropriate venue to consider such serious charges against a public official. “If you don’t like his opinion, take it to the ballot box,” he said.
Simmons argued that the proper process needs to be followed before removing a duly elected official.
“When we get to jealously guarding our concern about the constitution, we should also care about that bedrock principle that the people deserve to have the individuals that they elect serve them,” Simmons said.