Alabama Supreme Court holds session on LBWCC campus

Published 9:15 am Saturday, September 17, 2022

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The Alabama Supreme Court on Thursday heard oral arguments in an appeal regarding freedom of speech during a special session held on the campus of LBW Community College.

The court’s session was held leading up to Constitution Day on Sept. 17 with an audience that included students from the college and area high schools.

LBWCC History and Political Science faculty member Joseph Fernandez welcomed members of the court and thanked Circuit Court Judge Ben Bowden for his efforts in organizing the special session.

“We celebrate Constitution Day with a program to help prepare our students to be civically engaged in an ever-changing society. It is essential to recognize the value and history of the guiding document for our state and nation. What better way to learn than to witness the judicial system at work?,” Fernandez said.

Prior to the oral arguments hearing, Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker said the state’s high court holds special sessions outside of Montgomery each year, adding that typically those are held in larger cities. In the past year, the court has held sessions in Mobile and Huntsville with a planned visit to Birmingham upcoming.

“Several times a year we take our docket to a city other than Montgomery, but this visit is special because we wanted to go outside of the larger, metropolitan areas. We decided to visit the Wiregrass to celebrate Constitution Day this week. We are very glad to be here,” Parker said.

After introducing other State Supreme Court justices, Parker shared his thoughts about the U.S. and Alabama constitutions and the importance for students to read and learn both of them.

“We encourage you to pay attention to the U.S. Constitution and the Alabama Constitution,” Parker said. “If you are of voting age, you have the direct power to amend the state constitution at the ballot box. As Chief Justice, I take seriously the Alabama Constitution preamble, which is similar to the U.S. Constitution in that it seeks to establish justice as the first priority, but it also makes an important addition when it states, ‘Invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God’.” Please do not forget my charge to you on this Constitution Day … keep the U.S. Constitution and Alabama Constitution as your own. they may seem dusty and old, and in some parts hard to understand, but do not forsake them as something only for judges and lawyers and politicians. They were written by the people, for the people. Read it, study it, defend it. Because the future of this state and this country depend on you, the people, doing just that.

Leading into the hearing, Judge Bowden introduced the case and what the audience would hear.

“This is a real case. It is not a demonstration of what a case would look like. These are real litigants here who have a conflict that they are asking the court to resolve for them,” Bowden said.

The case heard involved Young Americans for Liberty at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who claim rules established by the university regarding outdoor speech on campus violate the Alabama Campus Free Speech Act and the right to free speech guaranteed by the Alabama Constitution.

In question was whether UAH’s policy creating “free speech zones” will actually limit protected speech.

A jury found in favor of the university during a trial in Madison County. The plaintiffs then appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court with the goal of receiving a judgment for a new trial, based on errors made in the original trial.

Following the oral arguments on Thursday, the judges will consider both sides, collaborate, and return a decision on the matter.

The Alabama Justices attending were: Justice Mike Bolin, Justice Tommy Bryan, Justice Kelli Wise, Justice Brad Medheim, Justice William Sellers, Justice Jay Mitchell, and Justice Sarah Stewart. Justice Greg Shaw was unable to attend.

Serving as the court clerk was Megan Rhodebeck.