ILNews

Judicial free-speech cases dismissed

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, which ruled the "pledges" and "commitments" clauses of Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct were unconstitutional.

In Indiana Right to Life, et al. v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., 06-4333, the Circuit Court dismissed Indiana Right to Life's complaint against the Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications and the Indiana Disciplinary Commission that Canon 5A(3)(d)(i) and (ii) is unconstitutional, stating the group had no standing to bring the complaint.

Indiana Right to Life sent questionnaires in 2002 and 2004 to judicial candidates seeking their answers to questions on topics such as abortion and physician-assisted suicide. In 2002, nine candidates answered; in 2004, eight candidates responded and only two provided substantive answers.

The six responses contained various explanations as to why the judges declined to answer the questions, but all mentioned their reasons for declining to answer were their own decisions and not influenced by potential discipline from the Commission on Judicial Qualifications.

Right to Life argues the "pledges" and "commitments" canon inhibits judicial candidates from stating their views on the issues and violates Right to Life's First Amendment right to receive and publish protected free speech.

Circuit Judge Terence Evans wrote in the opinion that in order for Right to Life to bring the complaint, they must have "a cognizable injury that is causally connected to the alleged conduct and is capable of being redressed." Right to Life claims they have the "right to listen," but there is no willing speaker nor is there a speaker who has been subjected to sanctions based on the code, so Right to Life does not have standing.

There were no judges who wanted to speak but were constrained because of the Judicial Code or who feared being disciplined, nor were any judges disciplined for a violation of the canon.
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