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SCOTUS recusal ruling cited in judicial-canon case

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A federal judge in Fort Wayne is deciding whether the state's judicial conduct code should be able to restrict judicial candidates from answering surveys about views on issues they might someday hear in court.

Now, a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States is being used in that federal case to delve further into what states should be allowed to do in order to balance free speech with possible perceptions of bias on the bench.

The judicial-speech case is Torrey Bauer, et al. v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., No. 3:08-CV-196, which stems from a survey the non-profit Indiana Right to Life Committee sent to judicial candidates asking them pre-election to state their views about policies and court decisions related to abortion, euthanasia, and other issues. Most declined to reply to the survey, citing an advisory opinion from the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission that warned judicial candidates against making "broad statements on disputed social and legal issues."

But deciding the rule goes too far and infringes on candidates' First and 14th amendments, the committee sued in April 2008 on behalf of Torrey Bauer, an attorney who was a candidate for Kosciusko Superior Court, and Marion Superior Judge David Certo, who at the time was a judicial candidate running for the first time after being appointed by the governor in 2007 to fill a vacancy.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard is named as the lead defendant because he chairs the Indiana Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Both sides filed newly amended complaints and responses earlier this year as a result of the state adopting a revised judicial code in January. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment, and the case remains open pending a summary judgment decision from U.S. District Judge Theresa L Springmann in Fort Wayne.

But in the past week, attorneys have filed briefs citing the June 8 decision of Hugh M. Caperton, et al. v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., Inc., No. 08-22, pointing to it as possible authority for the court to consider in its ongoing case. In that landmark 5-4 ruling, the SCOTUS held that elected judges must recuse themselves in cases involving interested parties or litigants who've made large campaign contributions that might create an appearance of bias, because those donations could be perceived to deny litigants of their due process rights.

Counsel for the Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission filed a five-page notice of supplemental authority June 18, saying the Caperton decision supports its canons designed to ensure due process through judicial open-mindedness.

On Tuesday, Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp filed a response on behalf of his clients, saying the case doesn't apply. That SCOTUS ruling applied only to "an exceptional case," and not others such as this case, Bopp wrote. He also noted that a state can adopt as rigorous a recusal standard as it likes, so as long as it doesn't run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

"Thus, a State could not require judges to recuse themselves in all cases because they belong to a particular political party, nor can they require recusal simply because a judge has announced her views on a disputed legal or political issue," the plaintiffs' response says.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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