AL Justice Parker Defeats SPLC in Free Speech Victory

May 31, 2018

The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) has agreed to settle Liberty Counsel’s lawsuit on behalf of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker with a permanent injunction, which will bar the use of judicial ethics canons to censor judges’ public comments. The JIC will also pay $100,000.00 compensation to Liberty Counsel for legal fees.

The controversy started in 2015, when the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a politically-motivated ethics complaint with the JIC against Justice Parker’s radio comments regarding same-sex “marriage.” Instead of dismissing the SPLC’s frivolous complaint, the JIC decided to undertake a year-long “investigation” into whether Justice Parker’s public comments on an issue of great public importance were in violation of Alabama Judicial Canons 1, 2A and 3A(6). Justice Parker initiated this lawsuit, challenging the canons on First Amendment grounds. In March 2018, the federal district court entered a preliminary injunction against the JIC, concluding that Justice Parker was likely to prevail on his constitutional challenge because judges have a First Amendment right to speak on issues of public importance if their comments are not likely to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of cases pending before them. 

In the settlement submitted to the court, the JIC has now agreed to make its preliminary injunction permanent, including the court’s finding that “A judicial candidate’s discussion of issues is protected by the First Amendment.” The Agreed Permanent Injunction has now been submitted to the court for final approval. The injunction makes clear that “Public discussion by judges or judicial candidates of an issue of public importance cannot be proscribed or punished under Canons 1, 2A and 3A(6) merely because that issue may happen to be the subject of a pending or impending proceeding in any court.”

The speech restrictive rule was so broad that it prevented any Alabama judge from commenting on any case pending anywhere in the country. This rule would even apply to judges teaching law school students and commenting on a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Justice Parker is currently an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and is running for the position of Chief Justice in a primary election being held on June 5, 2018.

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