AL Justice’s Free Speech Suit Continues

Sep 1, 2017

An Alabama federal district court dealt a blow to the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) that had put Alabama Supreme Court Associate Justice Tom Parker on notice of a complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The JIC and the former attorney general, Luther Strange, filed motions to dismiss Justice Parker’s suit, but the court held that Justice Parker has stated a claim that the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics violate his First Amendment right to free speech. Strange is now running for U.S. Senate against former Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Justice Tom Parker is challenging the constitutionality of several speech restrictive provisions of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics. These provisions were being used by the SPLC to silence the protected speech of Justice Parker. The court originally dismissed Justice Parker’s lawsuit on the grounds that the JIC’s pending investigation required federal courts to abstain from the matter. However, while Parker’s appeal was pending, the JIC dismissed the SPLC’s complaint. Liberty Counsel then filed a motion to have the case returned to the lower court to address the merits of the legal challenge, and the Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with Liberty Counsel. Late yesterday, the federal district court denied the motions to dismiss filed by the JIC and the attorney general, finding that the free speech claims could proceed but the due process claim had been denied in another case by the Court of Appeals.

Justice Parker is challenging a judicial canon that prohibits a judge from commenting on any case pending anywhere in the country even though the judge is not presiding over the case. Many years ago, the American Bar Association took the position that such restriction is unconstitutional and violates the First Amendment. But instead of revising the canon, Alabama continues to retain the unconstitutional canon.

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