Utah Asks SCOTUS Not To Hear Polygamy Challenge From ‘Sister Wives’ Stars


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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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The state of Utah asked the Supreme Court not to take up a challenge to its anti-polygamy law brought by the stars of the TLC series “Sister Wives.”

The justices signaled their interest in the case earlier this year by asking the Utah attorney general to file a brief detailing his views of the case.

The challenge to Utah’s law was brought by Kody Brown, a Mormon fundamentalist who believes polygamy is an essential religious practice. Brown has 18 children by four women. He is legally married to one and claims to be in “spiritual unions” with the other three. The 23-member group lives together is Las Vegas, and first brought an action alleging a constitutional right to polygamy in 2011.

The group’s family life touched off the reality television series “Sister Wives,” which has aired on TLC since 2010. The group fled their home in Lehi, Utah, in 2011 after the program provoked a law enforcement probe. Though Brown is legally married to only one of his wives, Utah state law prohibits multiple adults from cohabitating and leading a shared family life when one of the adults in question is legally married. (RELATED: ‘Sister Wives’ Battle Against Anti-Polygamy Laws Barrels Towards SCOTUS)

“There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states,” Brown said when filing the case. “We are one of those families. We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs. While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case earlier this year, and concluded that Brown did not have standing to bring a lawsuit. State and local prosecutors have said they only bring polygamy charges against plural families in connection with other illegal activity like child sex abuse or human trafficking, and do not plan to charge Brown and his companions. Therefore, the court reasoned, Brown does not face a credible threat of prosecution, and cannot challenge the law.

Strictly speaking, if the justices agree to take the case, they will only review the 10th Circuit’s ruling on the standing issue, and are not likely to issue a decision on the constitutionality of polygamy. This notwithstanding, the state attorney general briefly addressed the issuing, arguing that the U.S. government required Utah to permanently ban polygamy in order to become a state.

In its brief, Utah writes: “Two years later, in July 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed the Utah Enabling Act. Building on Utah’s territorial prohibitions, the act expressly conditioned Utah’s admission to the Union on its adopting a perpetual constitutional ban on polygamy.” He also argued the Enabling Act’s ban on polygamy was irrevocable without congressional authorization.

A decision on whether the Court will hear the case could come as soon as January.

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