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Is Justice Parker Next?

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Friday, September 30, 2016, the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) won a major victory when the Court of the Judiciary suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore through the remainder of his term.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) may have already picked out its next conservative jurist to purge: Associate Justice Tom Parker.

The SPLC has filed a complaint against Justice Parker claiming comments he made on the American Family Radio talk show regarding the US Supreme Court’s controversial marriage opinion, violated Canon 3(A)(6) of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics.

On Thursday, Parker responded by appealing his challenge to the speech-restrictive Canon 3, and the Alabama Constitution’s automatic removal provision that requires judges to be suspended whenever the JIC decides to issue a charge.

Canon 3(A)(6) purports to prohibit Alabama judges from making “any public comment about a pending or impending proceeding in any court.” If such a proceeding is not pending before the judge making the comments, and if the judge’s comments do not have a reasonable likelihood of affecting the outcome or impairing the fairness of that proceeding.

Liberty Counsel is defending Parker, the same group that represented Chief Justice Moore.

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Mat Staver, the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement that, “Justice Parker should not have to wait to be charged and suspended in order to challenge an unconstitutional restriction on his speech.”

Parker’s defense team argues that the provision is so broad it prohibits a judge who teaches law school students from commenting on any case pending in any court anywhere in the country. The American Bar Association has stated this restriction is a violation of the First Amendment.

Chairman Staver said, “The judicial canon that prohibits judges from commenting on any case anywhere in the country is patently unconstitutional. Every judge who teaches law school students is silenced by this broad restriction on speech. This speech restriction and the automatic removal provision must be struck down. We will now take this case to the court of appeals. This urgent matter affects every judge.”

Justice Parker has not been charged with anything by the JIC. However, Parker sued to challenge the constitutionality of the provision, Parker sued, anticipating possible action by the JIC. Their case against the Chief Justice was based on SPLC charges.

Federal Judge Keith Watkins acknowledged that “the First Amendment issues that arise when the SPLC, in a political season, attempts to use an agency of state government to suppress speech with which the SPLC disagrees,” but he chose to “abstain” from deciding the issue.

Parker’s attorneys have filed an appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Justice Tom Parker is seeking another term on the Alabama Supreme Court. He has no opponent in the November 8, General Election.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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