Circuit Court split on rehearing judicial canons case

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Indiana’s two federal appeals judges disagree about whether the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals should reconsider a Wisconsin case about the judicial code of conduct in that state, paving the way for a further battle before the nation’s highest court that could influence Indiana’s judicial canons.

What happens with this case may set the stage for what ultimately happens with a similar suit out of Indiana, in which a three-judge 7th Circuit panel recently upheld the state’s judicial canons and found they didn’t infringe upon constitutional free speech rights.

A per curiam decision came today in The Hon. John Siefert v. James C. Alexander, et al., No. 09-1713, in which a majority of the 10 active Circuit judges decided not to grant a rehearing en banc. Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Joel Flaum, Michael Kanne, Richard Posner, and John Tinder opted against rehearing. Judges David Hamilton, Illana Rovner, Ann Williams, and Diane Wood voted for the full court to rehear the appeal. Judge Diane Sykes didn’t participate, and one of the active seats remains vacant.

In June, the three-judge panel of Judges Flaum, Rovner, and Tinder issued a 2-1 ruling in Siefert v. Alexander, 608 F.3fd 974 (7th Circuit 2010). Judge Rovner had dissented from the ruling, which simultaneously held that Wisconsin couldn’t prevent judges from being members of political parties but it could restrict partisan activities such as endorsing non-judicial candidates or personal fundraising. That decision relied heavily on the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002,) regarding free speech issues in relation to judicial elections and campaigns, as well as the more recent ruling last year in Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., 129 S. Ct. 2252, 2266-67 (2009), and how newer lines of litigation have delved into subtopics.

On Aug. 20, a 7th Circuit panel relied on the Siefert decision in its ruling on Torrey Bauer, David Certo, and Indiana Right to Life v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., No. 09-2963, which affirmed a judgment from U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann in the Northern District of Indiana dismissing the judicial canons suit.

Dissenting today, Judge Rovner wrote on behalf of the dissenting judges that the 7th Circuit appears to be an outlier on these issues nationally and that recently the 6th and 8th Circuits have struck down as unconstitutional state statutes restricting First Amendment rights of judges and judicial canons.

“Our divergent opinions on this issue is an outlier and should be reheard en banc,” she wrote.

Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp, who represented the plaintiff and also represents the Indiana plaintiffs in the Bauer case, couldn’t be immediately reached today to comment on this ruling or whether he’ll file a writ of certiorari to the SCOTUS.


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