Alabama Justice Parker Defeats SPLC in Free Speech Victory- $100,000 Legal Fees Awarded
The Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) has agreed to settle Liberty Counsel's lawsuit on behalf of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker with a permanent injunction, which will bar the use of judicial ethics canons to censor judges' public comments.
The JIC will also pay $100,000.00 compensation to Liberty Counsel for legal fees.
The controversy started in 2015, when the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed a politically-motivated ethics complaint with the JIC against Justice Parker's radio comments regarding same-sex "marriage." Instead of dismissing the SPLC's frivolous complaint, the JIC decided to undertake a year-long "investigation" into whether Justice Parker's public comments on an issue of great public importance were in violation of Alabama Judicial Canons 1, 2A and 3A(6). Justice Parker initiated this lawsuit, challenging the canons on First Amendment grounds. In March 2018, the federal district court entered a preliminary injunction against the JIC, concluding that Justice Parker was likely to prevail on his constitutional challenge because judges have a First Amendment right to speak on issues of public importance if their comments are not likely to affect the outcome or impair the fairness of cases pending before them.
In the settlement submitted to the court, the JIC has now agreed to make its preliminary injunction permanent, including the court's finding that "A judicial candidate's discussion of issues is protected by the First Amendment." The Agreed Permanent Injunction has now been submitted to the court for final approval. The injunction makes clear that "Public discussion by judges or judicial candidates of an issue of public importance cannot be proscribed or punished under Canons 1, 2A and 3A(6) merely because that issue may happen to be the subject of a pending or impending proceeding in any court."
"The SPLC's sinister plan has backfired spectacularly," said Horatio Mihet, Chief Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel. "The SPLC's effort to muzzle Justice Parker has instead brought freedom of expression on critical public issues to all judges in Alabama. We are glad that the JIC has finally seen the proverbial writing on the wall and has abandoned its defense and enforcement of these unconstitutional laws," said Mihet.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel said, "This is an important victory for free speech, not just for Justice Tom Parker, but for all judges. This is also a victory for the public because they have a right to hear what judges want to say about important issues, especially during elections. Judges must also be free to speak about past cases when teaching law students in the classroom," said Staver.
The speech restrictive rule was so broad that it prevented any Alabama judge from commenting on any case pending anywhere in the country. This rule would even apply to judges teaching law school students and commenting on a case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.
"The Southern Poverty Law Center wanted to silence Justice Parker and remove him from the Alabama Supreme Court. Their ill intent backfired, and now Justice Parker has won the right for all judges to speak on important legal issues," concluded Staver.
Justice Parker is currently an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and is running for the position of Chief Justice in a primary election being held on June 5, 2018.