Judge on Notre Dame 88 case allows appeals court to decide recusal issue

obamanotredame070509 President Obama

In a hearing today, the judge assigned to the case against the 88 pro-life protesters arrested for trespassing at Notre Dame's commencement exercises last spring, has allowed the request for her recusal to move to an appeals court.

St. Thomas More Society attorney Thomas Dixon, who is representing the protesters, argued that Judge Jenny Pitts Manier has “an actual or perceived bias based on her prior rulings, her husband’s outspoken criticism of Catholic pro-life teachings as a philosophy professor at Notre Dame and other factors.”

Judge Manier, the wife of a retired pro-abortion Notre Dame professor, is markedly pro-abortion herself, Laura Rohling, one of the Notre Dame 88, told CNA in an October email.

In an October statement, Judge Manier denied any personal or judicial bias in the case and refused to recuse herself. She has also stated that her husband doesn't have a personal or professional interest in the case.

However, after a more than two-hour hearing during which Dixon again presented his case against Manier, the judge granted Dixon's request that the final opinion on the recusal be settled in the Indiana claims court.

“We’re very pleased that Judge Manier has allowed this immediate appeal as it is critical that these vital issues be heard before a fair and impartial tribunal,” said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society.

“Universities are supposed to be a place where free speech is welcomed and not silenced,” Brejcha continued. “The pro-life movement is the next stage of America’s civil rights movement. Notre Dame should not go down in history as another Birmingham, infamous for suppressing demonstrators for exercising their Constitutional rights.”

The defense of the protestors, who are being charged with trespassing by the University of Notre Dame, is based on the argument that the free speech rights of the pro-life protesters were violated by their arrest by campus police while demonstrating Obama supporters stood by watching.

Though representatives of the university claim that the issue is out of their hands, Brejcha expressed hope “that Notre Dame will intervene and ask that the charges be dropped.”

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