‘Sister Wives’ polygamy case to go to the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted at 11:54 AM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 14:07:38-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider its lawsuit challenging Utah’s historic ban on plural marriage.

The decision to ask the nation’s highest court to consider the polygamy case comes the same day a Denver-based federal appeals court rejected the Brown family’s request to re-hear the case. In a ruling Friday morning, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined an “en banc” request for the entire panel of judges to reconsider the case. The court previously dismissed the Brown’s lawsuit declaring that Utah prosecutors did not really intend to go after the family for polygamy.

Polygamist Kody Brown (center) and his wives (left to right) Janelle, Meri, Robyn and Christine. (Image courtesy TLC)

Polygamist Kody Brown (center) and his wives (left to right) Janelle, Meri, Robyn and Christine. (Image courtesy TLC)

“While disappointed, the Brown family remains committed to this case and the struggle for equal rights for all families in Utah.  We will now take this fight to the Supreme Court,” Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley wrote in an email to FOX 13, adding:

“At issue is the most basic right in our legal system: the right to be heard in a federal court.  The lower court found that the Browns left the state after months of abusive treatment by the government, which denied them basic protections under our Constitution.  All families should have access to the courts when targeted by the government in this way.  The panel decision leaves a chilling message for citizens in dealing with their government.  The 10th Circuit panel ruled that a prosecutor can publicly declare a family to be felons, keep them under criminal investigation, and denounce them for their religious beliefs without fear of being held accountable in a court of law. The Tenth Circuit did not deny the violation of free speech and free exercise by Mr. Buhman – violations found by the trial court. Rather it barred the Brown family from challenging his actions in federal court.  This country rests on the rule of law, which is reduced to a mere pretense if citizens are barred from the courthouse.  The Browns respectfully disagree with the panel and will seek relief before the United States Supreme Court.”

The Utah Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the 10th Circuit Court’s decision. The U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t heard a polygamy case in more than 100 years, when it upheld polygamy bans under the 1878 Reynolds v. United States decision, but their argument will at least initially be limited to the issue of standing with the courts.

Brown and his wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, sued the state of Utah in 2012 over its ban prohibiting polygamy. The family found themselves under investigation by Lehi police shortly after they appeared on their cable TV show “Sister Wives.” They argued it infringed on their right to privacy and religious freedom. A federal judge in Salt Lake City sided with them and struck down a portion of the state’s ban, making it no longer a crime to cohabitate with multiple people and purport to be married.

The state appealed and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court reversed the ruling. Since the appeals court ruling, some in Utah’s polygamous communities have considered approaching the Utah State Legislature to decriminalize plural marriage.

Read the 10th Circuit Court decision here: