AL Justice Parker’s Free Speech Victory

Jun 12, 2018

The Alabama federal district court entered a permanent injunction in favor of Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker and against the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) barring the use of judicial ethics canons to censor judges’ public comments. The JIC has been ordered to 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.

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.

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