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Friday, November 02, 2007

Ind. Decisions - More on: 7th Circuit dismisses challenge to Indiana canons of judicial ethics

Last Friday, Oct. 26th, the 7th Circuit issued a significant decision in the case of Right to Life v. Randall T. Shepard. The ILB covered it here. Like the legislative prayer decision issued the following Monday, Oct. 29th, the panel here dismissed the case for lack of standing. The basis here was: "[T]he case before us does not present a case or controversy. Right to Life has no standing to bring the case, and it should have been dismissed."

The ILB has seen no press coverage of the decision until today, with a story by Joe Carlson of the NWI Times:

CHICAGO | Following a national trend, federal appeals judges last week ruled that special interest groups cannot force judicial candidates in Indiana to promise how they will rule on controversial issues that come before their courts.

Indiana Right to Life Inc. sued Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard in 2004, saying the judge had infringed First Amendment rights by blocking candidates and advocacy groups from telling voters how judge candidates would rule on issues including abortion and assisted suicide.

"We're quite surprised at the decision," said James Bopp, a Terre Haute, Ind., attorney who successfully argued a similar case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002. "Judicial candidates are being severely restrained in their ability to comment on their judicial philosophies."

On the contrary, Shepard said, forcing judges to "promise" on the campaign trail how they would rule on certain issues goes against the fundamental concept of impartial justice.

"What's really at stake here is whether you get an even shake when you walk into an American courtroom," Shepard said in an interview. "We believe that it's better to have an impartial judge, not a partial judge."

Bopp and Shepard agreed it was unfortunate that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Indiana, made its ruling on technical grounds rather than addressing the philosophical debate.

Last November, U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp ruled in favor of Indiana Right to Life, saying the state's code of conduct for judges was unconstitutional because it broadly forbade judicial candidates from stating their views on legal issues.

On Oct. 26, the 7th Circuit threw out that ruling. But rather than analyze Sharp's logic on the issue, the appeals judges said Indiana Right to Life did not have standing to bring the case to court because it had not been directly damaged by the judicial code.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 2, 2007 08:30 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions | Indiana Decisions