Will SCOTUS weigh in on canons?

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Indiana Lawyer Rehearing

The Supreme Court of the United States could soon decide if it will take on cases that question Indiana’s judicial canons and whether those types of rules infringe on the free speech rights of seated jurists or those vying for the bench.

On Jan. 14, the Indiana attorney general’s office filed a brief with the high court in Torrey Bauer, David Certo, and Indiana Right to Life v. Randall T. Shepard, et al., No. 09-2963, urging the justices not to hear the case. That request came about four months after Terre Haute attorney James Bopp asked the court to grant certiorari in a case that centers on judicial candidates’ concerns about how state canons restrict their answering of survey questions.

U.S. Judge Theresa Springmann dismissed the case and upheld the canons, and the 7th Circuit last summer ruled that the state judicial canons aren’t unconstitutionally restrictive of free speech and should stand.

A three-judge appellate panel relied on a related ruling from June in The Hon. John Siefert v. James C. Alexander, et al., No. 09-1713, in upholding the Indiana canons, and the full Circuit declined to revisit that ruling despite some disagreement among the judges. Bopp appealed to the SCOTUS in September and the state waived its right to respond, but the high court in November asked the state AG to respond to the certiorari petition.

The AG’s brief argues that Bopp “may hope to use this case to deregulate judicial election campaigns, but the decision below written by Chief Judge Easterbrook provides little reason for the Court to become involved. The Seventh Circuit, examining common, time-tested restrictions on judicial speech, reached the same unremarkable First Amendment conclusions as nearly all courts.”

The state contends that abstract tension among lower courts about proper legal standards do not justify review, and that when no District or Circuit court conflict exists under precedent, the SCOTUS shouldn’t interfere.

A docket entry shows that justices plan to discuss the case during a private conference Feb. 18, but that isn’t guaranteed and no timeline exists for when a decision must be made. Bopp has also filed a certiorari petition in the Siefert case, and the docket shows that case is scheduled for discussion the same day as Bauer.

Rehearing "7th Circuit upholds Indiana's judicial cannons" IL Sept. 1-14, 2010


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