2 weeks ago

Alabama Justice Tom Parker wins suit challenging restrictions against judges commenting on cases


A federal judge in Montgomery on Friday ruled in favor of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker in a case that could grant significantly greater freedom to all state court judges to comment on legal matters that are not before them.

Chief U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state’s Judicial Inquiry Commission from enforcing a provision of the Canons of Judicial Ethics curtailing what judges can say publicly.

The order allows those rules to be enforced against comments that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of a case. Otherwise, Watkins wrote, judges have the same free-speech rights as other citizens.

“More generally, what is the state interest in outlawing speech that cannot be seen as affecting the outcome or impairing the fairness of a proceeding?” the judge wrote.

Parker praised the ruling and said he believes the Judicial Inquiring Commission, which investigates ethics complaints against judges, should stop litigating the issue.

“He did the right thing,” Parker said. “The Alabama public has the right to know where judges stand on issues of public importance. I am going to continue to speak out.”

The impact of the ruling will be felt beyond Parker. All Alabama judges now will have greater freedom to make their views known.

“This is not just a victory for me but for all judges across the state,” Parker said.

The case stems from an investigation that the commission launched after Parker make comments on a radio talk show about same-sex marriage in October 2015 as he was campaigning for re-election.

At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down state bans against gay marriage. But the Alabama Supreme Court had not yet decided a case involving whether probate judges had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In the radio interview, Parker blasted unelected judges in the federal courts and argued that judicial elections “keep judges in line” and make them accountable to the people.

The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against Parker with the Judicial Inquiry Commission based on those comments. Parker sued the commission before it reached a decision. Watkins threw out the suit because the Judicial Inquiry Commission investigation still was ongoing. While the case was before the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the commission dismissed the Southern Poverty Law Center’s complaint.

The appeals court sent the case back to Watkins to determine if there was still a dispute to settle in light of the commission’s action. He ruled that there was because Parker still was subject to the cannon’s provisions.

Although the ruling by Watkins on Friday was merely a preliminary injunction and does not end the case, the judge determined that Parker demonstrated “substantial likelihood” that he would win the case.

Watkins cited two Supreme Court precedents that struck down restrictions on speech by judicial candidates, one from Minnesota in 2002 and one from Florida in 2015. He ruled that the rule was overly broad, restricting a judge’s ability to comment even on matters outside of Alabama.

“Why would the public’s confidence be undermined by a judge speaking about an ongoing proceeding in Arizona or Angola?” he wrote. “When it comes to preserving the judicial integrity of Alabama state judges, is speaking about a case pending before the Alabama Supreme Court really the same as discussing the merits of an appeal before the Supreme Court of Seychelles?”

The Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit legal foundation that represented Parker, praised Friday’s ruling.

“This is an important victory for free speech for not just Justice Tom Parker but for all judges,” the group’s founder and chairman, Mat Staver, said in a statement. “This is also a victory for the public because they have a right to hear what judges want to say about the law, especially during elections.”

Staver indicated that it is unfair to “gag” every Alabama judge from talking about current issues.

“Every judge who teaches law school students would be silenced by this broad restriction on speech,” he stated. “Now, they are free to speak and teach. The muzzle has been removed.”

It is unclear how many judges will exercise their newfound latitude, assuming Watkins’ ruling stands. Judicial ethics rules or no, judges often are uncomfortable speaking publicly about political or legal issues. Parker said each judge will have to make up his or her mind and added that some judges are happy to use the Cannons of Judicial Ethics as an excuse to stay quiet.

“The cannon has been used as both a sword and a shield,” he said.

Brendan Kirby is senior political reporter at LifeZette.com and a Yellowhammer contributor. He also is the author of “Wicked Mobile.” Follow him on Twitter.


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4 hours ago

Evidence mounts of full-scale Russian campaign to undermine American energy

The U.S. government for the first time ever blamed Russia for hacking into American energy infrastructure. The Trump administration action comes a little over two weeks after a House committee detailed Russian attempts to influence energy markets.

U.S. officials said a “multi-stage intrusion campaign by Russian government cyber actors” that began in March 2016, possibly earlier, is part of a campaign to target critical infrastructure, including energy, nuclear and aviation facilities.


The FBI and Department of Homeland Security on Thursday said hackers targeted small facilities “where they staged malware, conducted spear phishing, and gained remote access into energy sector networks,” Reuters reported.

It’s the first time the U.S. has directly called out Moscow for infrastructure hacking. It’s still unclear whether or not the hacks were successful or led to any damage, and the security alert did not name the companies targeted.

The Trump administration condemnation comes more than two weeks after the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology found Russian agents used social media outlets to embolden opposition to American energy production.

“Russia exploited American social media as part of its concerted effort to disrupt U.S. energy markets and influence domestic energy policy,” reads the committee’s report on Russian activities.

The committee found accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm, published 9,097 social media posts from 2015 to 2017 targeting energy policies and projects. Thirteen Russians connected to IRA were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The IRA targeted pipelines, fossil fuels, climate change, and other divisive issues to influence public policy in the U.S.,” the House committee found.

For years, Republicans and energy industry experts have worried Russian money was being used to undermine U.S. energy policy.

Intelligence officials confirmed in early 2017 in a declassified report on election meddling that the state-owned media outlet Russia Today (RT) ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”

The House committee began the investigation in 2017 and asked Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to investigate whether or not Russians were using an offshore Bermuda-based law firm to funnel money to U.S. environmental groups.

Lawmakers asked Mnuchin to investigate whether or not the U.S.-based environmental group, the Sea Change Foundation, took $23 million from a Bermuda-based shell company with ties to Russian oligarchs in 2010 and 2011.

Sea Change gave millions to U.S.-based environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. All of those groups oppose hydraulic fracturing.

(Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.)

5 hours ago

VIDEO: PA-18’s lessons — dangerous teachers — student walkouts … and more on Guerrilla Politics

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories including:

— Were the results in Pennsylvania’s special election a rejection of Trump or Pelosi?

— Why did the executive director of the state’s superintendent association imply teachers were unstable and dangerous?

— Will the student walkouts bring about some real change on gun issues?

Clayton Hinchman joins Jackson and Burke to discuss his campaign for Congress in Alabama’s 5th Congressional District.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” directed at Hillary Clinton where he begs her never stop talking.

6 hours ago

AlabamaWorks! is holding a career event for students to learn about jobs in the state

Edie Gibson and Antiqua Cleggett talk “Worlds of Work at SkillsUSA” which will be held April 24-25 at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Complex.

Worlds of Work at SkillsUSA is designed to help 8-12th grade students “connect the dots” and clearly identify steps toward a college or career pathway as they enter their high school education.

More information is available here.

Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

7 hours ago

Wounded Warrior running for Alabama State House representing Chambers and Lee Counties

Back in 2003, while U.S. Army Specialist Todd Rauch and his buddies were patrolling the streets of Abu Ghraib, an Iraqi city made famous by its notorious prison, a remotely-detonated mortar exploded near his patrol. His right shoulder and hand were severely injured in the blast.

Rauch was eventually flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and endured 12 surgeries to save his limbs from amputation.

He is now running as a Republican for the State House of Representatives district representing Chambers and Lee Counties.

So how did this Illinois-native find himself running for office in Alabama?

While recovering at the hospital, Rauch’s roommate was from Fort Payne and “all he talked about was Auburn and Auburn and Auburn,” Rauch told Yellowhammer News.


Rauch soon recovered from his injuries, and then his plans for a transition to civilian life became all about … Auburn, Auburn, Auburn.

“I applied to Auburn and felt like it was a good place to get a fresh start,” he said

Rauch studied psychology at Auburn University, with the intention of working in veteran services or military intelligence. He then worked for a time as an intelligence analyst and then began working in veterans’ services, helping his brothers and sisters in arms receive the benefits they were promised.

He’s running on a platform strengthening communities.

Rauch has a firm conviction that a community’s representative ought to be more present in the community itself, something he said he hasn’t seen much at the 75 city and county commission meetings he has attended over the last few years.

“I realized that there was no one there who was representing us in Montgomery to take those voices and those issue and those problems to Montgomery,” he said.

Rauch has put improving jobs and education among his platform principles.

He is a stanch supporter of the community college system, of which both he and his wife are products.

“It’s a good and affordable way to get your education and to get experience in college without jumping into a four-year university,” he said.

Rauch also supports expanding broadband access to rural areas. He said it is critical to the development of rural areas that have little internet and cell service.

“You’re not able to do your banking,” he said. “Some of these people aren’t even able to have home security systems because some of that works off of cell service.”

With the campaign motto, “Community. Country. Service,” Rauch said he wants to work to improve life for his constituents, and by extension, the rest of the state and country.

“Focusing on the community creates better environment for the kids, inspires better leaders, and provides better community for our state, and provides a better state for our country,” he said.

The GOP primary is June 5.

(Image: Todd Rauch for Alabama/Facebook)

The conservative alternative to Martha Roby gains momentum as Terry Everett, lawmakers endorse Barry Moore

State Rep. Barry Moore’s campaign for Congress recently received strong endorsements from the district’s former congressman and a dozen of Alabama’s most conservative state lawmakers.

“Since I left Congress, government has grown, our representation has wavered, and District 2 values have been casted aside,” said former Republican Congressman Terry Everett, who represented the district from 1993-2009. “We need to make a change, and I am privileged to support Representative Barry Moore for Congress.”

Everett’s powerful endorsement comes days after 12 of the state’s most conservative lawmakers gathered in Montgomery to endorse Barry Moore, whose conservative record they witnessed firsthand while working alongside him in the State Legislature.

Wetumpka State Rep. Mike Holmes told reporters that the district has “an opportunity to send a strong, unapologetic conservative to Washington,” and Montgomery State Rep. Dimitri Polizos agreed, saying that Moore is a “proven conservative leader” who will “stand with President Trump and give our district the representation it deserves.”

Visit Barry Moore’s website, his Facebook page and @RepBarryMoore on Twitter to learn why Terry Everett and others believe in his vision to Make Alabama Great Again!

(Paid for by Barry Moore for Congress)