Tuesday, July 03, 2018

8th Circuit Orders Dismissal of Trial Judge's Suit Over His Sitting On Death Penalty Cases

In In re Kemp, (8th Cir., July 2, 2018), the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals by a 2-1 vote issued a writ of mandamus essentially ordering an Arkansas federal district court to dismiss a suit against seven justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court brought by Wendell Griffen, a state trial court judge. The Arkansas Supreme Court had ordered Griffen, who is also a Baptist minister, taken off of all cases involving the death penalty or the state's execution protocol, citing an apparent lack of impartiality. Griffen had issued a temporary restraining order against the state's method of execution after he wrote a blog post criticizing the death penalty as immoral and took part in an anti-death penalty rally on Good Friday.  Griffen then sued in federal district court claiming infringement of his religious freedom as well as retaliation for exercising his free speech rights, and violation of his due process and equal protection rights. The district court refused to completely dismiss Griffen's lawsuit. (See prior posting.) The 8th Circuit held, however, that Griffen had not stated a plausible claim for relief under any of his theories.  Judge Kelly dissented, arguing that this is an improper use of mandamus.  Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports on the decision.