Governor Mike Pence earned national praise today for appointing conservative stalwart Geoffrey Slaughter to the Indiana Supreme Court.
Indiana is one of the few states in America where the governor can choose justices for its highest court only from candidates approved by a judicial-selection commission, created by the Indiana Constitution. Nationwide, these “merit selection” commissions tend to be dominated by trial lawyers, who are often liberal. As a consequence, it is difficult for reliable conservatives to make it on the list of options for a governor to appoint, which has at times frustrated conservatives in Indiana.
Yet Slaughter made it through the gauntlet, and he could be the most conservative Indiana Supreme Court justice in decades.
Indiana has been in the national spotlight in recent years on various issues, from voter-ID laws to religious liberty to Second Amendment rights. The Indiana Supreme Court has what conservatives regard as a mixed record on these issues.
In his press conference announcing Justice Slaughter, Governor Pence said it was “momentous and humbling” to appoint a person to his state’s supreme court, praising Slaughter’s principles, character, and “unparalleled understanding of the Constitution.”
National conservative leaders applauded Governor Pence’s decision.
“I congratulate Governor Pence on what appears to be an outstanding choice for Indiana’s highest court,” said former U.S. Ambassador Ken Blackwell, who serves on the board of directors of both the National Rifle Association and the Club for Growth, two of the nation’s most prominent conservative organizations. “Indiana has recently enacted laws that are vitally important for economic liberty, and also for the right of self-defense. Governor Pence is doing his part to create a state supreme court that will apply those laws with the full legal force Indiana lawmakers wrote into them.”
Under Pence and his predecessor, Mitch Daniels, Indiana has enacted laws impacting the right to work and free markets, and also recognizing the right of a person to take reasonable steps to defend themselves against a police officer using unlawful force. The latter statute—which was supported by the NRA—superseded a then-recent decision of the Indiana Supreme Court holding that citizens have no such right. The Indiana court’s decision contradicted a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which had that federal law recognizes such a right when a police officer illegally uses force against a citizen.
Today’s appointment is also seen as important for other reasons.
“Religious freedom is under attack in America like never before,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, the largest law firm in the United States exclusively dedicated to protecting religious liberty for all Americans. “Indiana has recently adopted legislation that protects Hoosiers’ right to freely hold religious beliefs and live according to their conscience. It’s extremely important for the Indiana Supreme Court to interpret these laws—and the U.S. Constitution—in a manner that fully vindicates these fundamental rights.”
Shackelford was referring to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). First Liberty Institute is currently representing Oregon bakers who were forced by state officials to pay $135,000 for not celebrating a same-sex wedding, as well as Dr. Eric Walsh, who was fired by the State of Georgia because of what he said about a wide range of faith-based beliefs when preaching sermons as an associate pastor in his church.
“After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, it is as important as ever to appoint judges at the state level who will uphold the rights enshrined in our laws,” Shackelford explained. Regarding Slaughter, he added, “I’ve never had the pleasure of working with Justice Slaughter, but he has an excellent reputation as a constitutional conservative who reveres the First Amendment. I commend Governor Pence for appointing a jurist who is known for such principles.”
Justice Slaughter is the 109th justice to serve on the Indiana Supreme Court.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.