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ACLU: Full court should rehear prayer case

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana wants the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a case involving legislative prayer.

The civil liberties organization Wednesday filed a petition for rehearing en banc in Anthony Hinrichs v. Speaker of the House of Representatives, No. 1:05-cv-00813. This request comes about two weeks after a three-judge circuit panel ruled that plaintiffs didn't have standing to sue lawmakers over legislative prayer and ordered that the federal suit be dismissed.

The Hoosier ACLU had sued in May 2005 on behalf of four people who objected to the practice of opening each legislative session with a prayer. U.S. District Judge David Hamilton in the Southern District of Indiana ruled that invocations offered in the Indiana House of Representatives could not mention Jesus Christ or use Christian terms such as savior because they amount to state endorsement of a religion.

But the Oct. 30 7th Circuit ruling reversed the District Court decision, though it didn't touch on the merits of the case.

In its decision, Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Michael Kanne in the majority noted that the legislative practice isn't mandated by statute and that plaintiffs weren't able to point to any specific amount of money spent on the practice and that other than costs related to broadcasting online, nothing spent was directly related to the content of the prayers provided.

But legal counsel Ken Falk disagrees, writing that the panel's decision conflicts with precedent from the Supreme Court of the United States and its own past decisions.

"Consideration by the full court is therefore necessary to secure and maintain uniformity of the court's decisions," the 22-page brief says, delving into several cases it says were misinterpreted. "The panel decision has overruled the requirements for state taxpayer standing as developed by the Supreme Court ... This is beyond the prerogative of this Court and en banc review must be granted to remedy this error."

Falk notes that the plaintiff-taxpayers have brought a "good faith pocketbook action" to challenge clear Establishment Clause violations and have standing to sue.

Judge Diane Wood was the sole dissenter on the original panel and argued her colleagues overextended caselaw and denied plaintiffs a day in court. It would take a majority of the 11 active judges to rehear the case before the full court.

No clear timeline exists for the court to consider the request, but it could ask the state to submit a response brief. Both sides have said previously they expect this case to eventually be appealed to the nation's highest court.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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