AL Justice Seeks Free Speech for Judges

Nov 30, 2017

MONTGOMERY, AL - Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker has asked the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama to block enforcement of Alabama Judicial Canon 3A(6), while his federal lawsuit challenging the speech restrictions on judges continues.

Canon 3A(6) imposes a far reaching ban on Alabama judges, prohibiting them from publicly discussing any pending or impending case in any court of the country irrespective of whether the comments are likely to have any impact on the case.

Similar bans were abandoned long ago by the American Bar Association, and every other state in the nation have repealed these speech restrictive provisions, except Alabama.  Alabama alone retains this type of ban, and Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) has shown its willingness to use the ban to punish and silence judges like Justice Parker if they comment on any case no matter how removed it may be from Alabama. The speech restriction is so broad it prohibits a sitting judge who teaches or speaks to law students in a law school classroom from commenting on any pending case anywhere in the country.

At the request of a complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the JIC opened an investigation of Justice Parker. Had the JIC filed a charge, he would have automatically been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court pending the litigation. After Liberty Counsel filed suit, and while the case was before the Court of Appeals, the JIC dismissed the complaint. But the speech restriction remains and can be used as a weapon any time.  

The SPLC hoped to remove Justice Parker by filing the complaint against him. 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. The federal district court denied the motions to dismiss filed by the JIC and the attorney general. The merits of the case are now before the court.  

“The judicial canon that prohibits judges from commenting on any case anywhere in the country is patently unconstitutional,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Every judge who teaches law school students would be silenced by this broad restriction on speech. It’s also a flagrant violation of the free speech rights of Justice Parker. He is a current candidate for Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and this judicial canon stands as an unconstitutional impediment to actively discussing matters of grave public concern to Alabama voters. Justice Parker is entitled to speak on the current state of the judicial branch during his candidacy, and Liberty Counsel will continue to defend him until he is no longer chilled by this unconstitutional speech restriction,” said Staver.

Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.