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January 03, 2006

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IMKierkegaard

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reasoninal

Parker's article, which disparaged his fellow justices on the state Supreme Court, focused on their decision to abide by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Roper v. Simmons) that reinforced an earlier decision which had struck down state laws allowing for the execution of minors.

The decision of the Alabama justices was 8 - 0, Parker recused himself, in favor of instructing the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals to decide whether the Roper decision requires the court to change the death sentence of a minor, Renaldo Adams, to life without parole for the gruesome murder of a pregnant Alabama woman.

Justice Parker recused himself from the Adams case because he had been involved in the prosecution of the case as an assistant to Attorney General Bill Pryor, not Jeff Sessions as he mistakenly claims in his article.

Parker regards his fellow justices' decision to follow the U.S. Supreme Court's precedent "…as a failure to defend our U.S. Constitution and laws against activist federal judges." Moreover, Parker accuses them of passively accommodating rather than actively resisting the unconstitutional majority opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

While Parker is correct that Roper is another example of judicial activism, the decision by his colleagues to abide by the higher court's ruling does not constitute a failure to defend the U.S. Constitution nor is it passive accommodation of judicial activism. The other eight justices were in fact upholding the rule of law because all judges are bound by precedent.

Conservative judicial activism is no more acceptable than liberal judicial activism because in the end both lead to an undermining of the public respect and trust of the law. Consequently, by advocating that conservative judges engage in judicial activism by refusing to uphold the precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court, Parker himself fails the test of judicial restraint.

This does not mean that precedents cannot be challenged.

Parker is correct in advocating that precedents such as Roper may be challenged in order to have them reviewed. But the proper venue for challenging precedents is outside a judge's chambers. The most suitable officials for challenging precedents are state attorney generals or governors. Because every lower court judge is bound by precedent, it is up to the attorney general or governor to appeal their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court which is the only judicial body that can change a precedent.

Unfortunately, Parker appears to have also misinterpreted the Roper majority's attitude toward the failure of lower courts to uphold precedent.

He apparently concluded that because the majority in the Roper decision did not reprimand the Missouri Supreme Court for failing to follow precedent in a previous ruling (Stanford), that they were somehow sending a message to other state courts that they were also free to ignore precedent. However, in his dissent on Roper, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, took strong exception to the fact that the majority failed to admonish the Missouri court "…for its flagrant disregard of our precedent in Stanford."

Furthermore, Scalia, arguably the most conservative justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, reinforced the idea that lower courts are bound by precedent stating that "it is this Court's prerogative alone to overrule one of its precedents." He concluded his dissent with the perspective that allowing lower courts to ignore precedent and leave the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions without any force "…destroys stability and makes our case law an unreliable basis for the designing of laws by citizens and their representatives, and for action by public officials. The result will be to crown arbitrariness with chaos."

Given Scalia's strong affirmation of precedent in his Roper dissent, would Parker now paint Scalia with the same brush he has applied to his fellow justices on the Alabama Supreme Court? Would he also disparage Scalia as he has his fellow justices by claiming that his defense of upholding precedent is tantamount to surrendering his conservative credentials? Yet what the other eight justices on the Alabama Supreme Court did in the Adams case is exactly what Justice Scalia said they should do-they followed the precedent.

It is distressing to see a member of the Alabama Supreme Court undermine the decorum of the court by attacking the credibility of his fellow justices, all of whom can legitimately lay claim to solid credentials as conservatives and constructionists when it comes to abiding by and upholding the U.S. Constitution.

By writing the article, Parker himself demonstrated a lack of judicial restraint and that is no way for a member of the state's highest court to conduct himself. Furthermore, advocating that state courts should refuse to uphold the precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court is, as Associate Justice Scalia wrote in his Roper dissent, no way to run our legal system either.

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