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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Fight Over Judicial Ethics Tossed in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by an associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court against the ethics commission investigating him for comments he made on same-sex marriage.

Justice Tom Parker, who is up for reelection this year, filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics, which govern the behavior of judges in the state.

He was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the panel, claiming an inquiry based on those canons violates his First Amendment free speech rights.

At issue are opinions Parker expressed on a conservative radio talk show following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States.

The radio host asked Parker for his thoughts on the issue, and he said he believed Obergefell is "contrary to the constitution" and that "the state retains rights not delegated to the federal government.".

Parker was then asked what would happen if a state refused to accept the high court's decision

He replied: "I doubt that it would be a blanket defiance of all jurisdiction of the U.S. Supreme Court, but in regard to the Obergefell decision, where it's clear that they jumped outside of all the precedents in order to impose their will on this country, that yes, resisting that decision could maybe start a revival of what we need in this country to return to our original founding principles."

The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Parker with the Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, a body charged with investigating violations of Judicial Canons, alleging that Parker publicly endorsed defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court's order.

This, the center says, violates the canons that require a judge to observe "high standards of conduct so that the integrity ... of the judiciary may be preserved" and which requires a judge to "abstain from public comments about a pending or impending proceeding in any court."

Parker sued the Judicial Inquiry Commission five months later, claiming that the ongoing investigation has harmed his reelection campaign because it forced him to engage in "self-censorship of his desired speech as a judicial candidate and sitting judge."

Parker also claims that the law does not require him to choose between speech and sanctions that could be imposed by the commission, and if he were to be disqualified from his position, this would "spoil and thwart" his candidacy for reelection.

In dismissing the Parker's lawsuit on Sept. 29, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Younger v. Harris which said federal courts are not to interfere with pending prosecutions by a state.

Because the investigation by the commission is "ongoing," the Younger abstention doctrine applies in this case, Watkins said.

The decision came one day before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore for encouraging the state's probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Court of the Judiciary found Moore's actions were a direct defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court. This is the second time in Moore's career that he was removed from office, the first time being in 2003, when he defied a federal order to remove a massive Ten Commandments monument from courthouse grounds.

The Judicial Inquiry Commission has yet to indicate whether it will seek similar charges against Parker before the Court of the Judiciary.

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