Pro-Life Judge Loses Free Speech Court Battle

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 16, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pro-Life Judge in New York Loses Free Speech Court Battle

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
December 16, 2003

New York, NY ( — A judicial ruling in New York could have the effect of stifling pro-life speech. Pro-life state Supreme Court Justice John LaCava will not be allowed to challenge a threat to his right to freedom of speech in federal court.

In 1999, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct admonished LaCava for sending a letter to the Right-to-Life Party stating that he was pro-life. LaCava claimed the penalty should be reversed because of a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court decision saying that candidates for judicial office cannot be prevented from stating their opinions on controversial political issues.

However, Southern District Judge Colleen McMahon rebuffed LaCava’s attempt for vindication, saying she lacked jurisdiction in the case. McMahon claimed that her review of the case would violate the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which states that federal courts lack jurisdiction to review claims involving direct review of state court decisions.

McMahon also claimed that the Supreme Court ruling could not be applied retroactively to LaCava’s claim.

“It’s another example of the fact that the noose is tightening around the necks of pro-lifers,” said Richard F. Collier, a pro-life lawyer from New Jersey.

“This case should be a warning to us that they will not be satisfied until we bow down and worship their false god of abortion,” Collier said.

LaCava was serving as a judge in Westchester County in 1998 when he ran for a seat in the Ninth Judicial District. His pro-life position was well-publicized and he ultimately won the election.

The commission, however, charged him with violating the New York State Rules on Judicial Conduct. The commission said that he had made statements showing his position on cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the court.

LaCava initially agreed to be admonished by the commission, but in 2002, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, he requested that the commission reconsider. LaCava claimed that he would not have been disciplined under that decision.

Collier said that the situation shows that pro-abortion forces are “using bogus ethics charges to punish a pro-life judge and to deter others from speaking out in support of life.”

While some pro-life voters have hailed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling as opening up the possibility for frank discussion of abortion, the application of the ruling has been somewhat problematic.

For instance, in Pennsylvania, state judicial officials rewrote their rules in response to the ruling, but did so in a way that made some judicial candidates reluctant to talk about abortion. As a result, one Supreme Court candidate who was pro-life did not speak about abortion, saying that judicial rules forbade it. Her opponent, however, who was supported by the pro-abortion lobby, readily spoke about abortion and other political issues. In that case, the pro-abortion candidate won.