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7th Circuit hears arguments on judicial free speech

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Friday morning in the case of Indiana Right to Life vs. Randall T. Shepard, et al., 06-4333, in which the state's Commission on Judicial Qualifications and Disciplinary Commission want the court to reverse the District Court's ruling that granted a permanent injunction against provisions in Indiana's Code of Judicial Conduct.

Representing the appellants, George T. Patton Jr. argued the plaintiffs in the case, Indiana Right to Life, do not have standing to bring the suit, stating Indiana Right to Life isn't a judge or judicial candidate and not subject to the canons, and are free to say and publish whatever information they want.

The question of why Indiana Right to Life was bringing the suit instead of a judge or judicial candidate was asked several times by the Circuit judges.

The Circuit judges also asked why Indiana Right to Life filed the suit instead of the judges. In response, the appellees argued the judges declined to answer the questionnaire because they feared facing disciplinary actions.

The judges also questioned how the canons affect Indiana Right to Life in their ability to publish the results of the two judges who did answer the organization's questionnaire.

The appellee argued the listener has an equal constitutional right to receive free speech and cited Shimer v. Washington, 100 F.3d 506 (7th Cir. 2003) and Penny Saver Publications, Inc. v. Village of Hazel Crest, 905 f.2d 150 (7th Cir. 1990). The person injured by not receiving speech brought the suits, in which the 7th Circuit held they had standing. Indiana Right to Life has constitutional right to receive speech as a listener and their speech has been chilled because of the prospect of punishment of those judges or judicial candidates who answered the questionnaires or declined to answer for fear of sanctions, the appellee argued.

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