Appeals Court Rips District Judge in Church/State Case

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals strongly criticized a federal district judge who refused to issue a preliminary injunction in a case involving a public elementary school graduation ceremony held at a Christian college that included prayer.

The case involves an elementary school in Greenville, South Carolina, which scheduled its graduation ceremony in the chapel of a local Christian college and included a prayer as part of the ceremony. A student and her parents filed a lawsuit and asked for an injunction barring the ceremony from taking place as planned until the full case could be heard. They also asked to be allowed to continue the case under pseudonyms so they wouldn’t have to face harassment and potential violence.

After the judge ruled against both of those motions without bothering to even issue a written ruling on the merits of them, the family appealed and asked that the judge be removed from the case. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the judge ignored the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which require a written ruling spelling out the findings and conclusions of law, didn’t even bother to analyze the legal merits of the case and removed him from the case.

In denying Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court provided no analysis of the law and made no attempt to apply the four factors mentioned above to the facts as alleged in the complaint. Thus, we are constrained to remand the case for reconsideration of the issue. We likewise conclude that in denying the unopposed motion to proceed pseudonymously, the district court erred for the same reason stated above. Accordingly, we vacate the denial of Plaintiffs’ motions for a preliminary injunction and to proceed pseudonymously and remand for reconsideration and for the opportunity for the district court to provide an analysis supporting any subsequent rulings.

Finally, we agree with Plaintiffs that the case be reassigned to a different district judge on remand and so order.

The judge who has been removed said during the hearing on those motions that the family was “making a mountain out of a mole hill.” That isn’t a legal conclusion at all, it’s a sneer. The family will now argue for those motions before a different judge, who will have to actually consider the merits and issue a ruling.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    This looks ripe for a Supreme Court ruling overturning the 4th Circuit.

  • John Pieret

    Let’s not leave out the name of the dufus: G. Ross Anderson, Jr., Seniorle District Judge.

  • daved

    Is G. Ross Anderson definitely the judge in question, or is he just the senior judge in that district? Or does that mean he’s the only judge in that district? I read the opinion and realized I didn’t know. (And I bet the Supreme Court won’t get involved in this one even if the district appeals.) I note that the utterly-misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom is in there swingin’ on the side of the school district.

  • Ben P

    Let’s not leave out the name of the dufus: G. Ross Anderson, Jr., Senior District Judge.

    Is G. Ross Anderson definitely the judge in question, or is he just the senior judge in that district? Or does that mean he’s the only judge in that district?

    Some clarity.

    On reading the opinion, yes. G. Ross Anderson was the trial court judge in the case.

    “Senior Judge” is a bit of a misnomer because it’s sort of a term of art. Within the Federal Judicial System “Senior Judge” effectively equals “Semi-Retired Judge.”

    Article III (i.e. Judges of District COurts, COurts of Appeals and Supreme Court) are appointed for life. They can fully step down and retire, but what is much more common is that they go to “Senior Status.” They must be at least 65 and must have served for at least 12 years to qualify for senior status, or one year fewer for each year of age. They continue to recieve the salary of a federal judge, but carry a dramatically reduced caseload. Most continue to work at least part time hearing cases, they are available for cases where other judges have conflicts, and to ease the caseload of sitting judges. When they enter senior status their position becomes vacant and the president may appoint a replacement.

    A quick google search reveals that G. Ross Anderson Jr. was born in 1929, graduated law school in 1951, and was appointed a U.S. District Judge in 1980 by Jimmy Carter. He assumed senior status in 2009, his 80th birthday, and currently carries a 25% caseload.

  • John Pieret

    BenP already took care of it but this is how you can tell from the opinion (right under the caption):

    Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, at Greenville. G. Ross Anderson, Jr., Senior District Judge. (6:13-cv-02471-GRA)

    Among other things the case numbers in the Federal district courts (that “6:13-cv-02471-GRA”) include the initials of the judge who is assigned.

  • Matt G

    And what is known about G. Ross Anderson, Jr.?

  • colnago80

    In other breaking news, District Judge John Jones III (remember him) just ruled the Pennsylvania law on same sex marriage unconstitutional. Of considerable interest is that he applied the heightened scrutiny standard in his decision. Hopefully Brayton will comment in the near future on this decision. By the way, he didn’t issue a stay of his order.

    http://goo.gl/YgVD3k

  • colnago80

    Re Matt G @ #6

    The judge is 85 years old. It would appear that retirement is in order.

  • Scr… Archivist

    Matt G @6,

    It appears that Judge Anderson attended Anderson University (South Carolina), “a Christian institution sponsored by the South Carolina Baptist Convention.” http://www.andersonuniversity.edu/ministries.aspx?id=2351 The college is named after the city and county in which it is located, and I have to wonder if the judge is related to the Revolutionary War figure after whom so many things there are named.

    Meanwhile, they are going to name their new student center after the judge. http://www.andersonuniversity.edu/alumni.aspx?id=6662

    The building will be named in honor of United States District Judge G. Ross Anderson Jr., who has been a driving force behind the growth and the quality of education provided at Anderson University. The judge is one of the best-known Andersonians in the community and has been intricately involved with the university for years.

  • Mr.Diby StillCertainlyObjects

    I feel bad for the kid who has scolds for parents. What a shame that some people are offended by prayer. We’re witnessing nothing less than the collapse of Western civilization, making mountains out of mole hills.

  • John Pieret

    I feel bad for the kid who has scolds for parents. What a shame that some people are offended by prayer. We’re witnessing nothing less than the collapse of Western civilization, making mountains out of mole hills.

    Yeah, those scolds that want to impose prayers on those who don’t want them are pretty bad. But those constitutional “mole hills” have a way of only being noticeable when it is your ox that is being gored. If “Western Civilization” depends on forcing kids to sit through unwanted prayers, there is no particular reason to worry about it collapsing.

  • eric

    We’re witnessing nothing less than the collapse of Western civilization, making mountains out of mole hills.

    Now that’s an amusing statement.

  • http://tonythompsonjr%40facebook.com Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Diby:

    We’re witnessing nothing less than the collapse of Western civilization, making mountains out of mole hills

    No we’re not you bigoted asshole.

    (Diby made hir bigoted views of women and homosexuals known @Pharyngula)

  • dysomniak “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!”

    Who is left to fight for all that is good, and pure, and get’s you smashed for under a fiver? http://youtu.be/QACSo5xk3dE

  • maddog1129

    What a shame that more people are not offended by government violation of citizens’ individual liberty of conscience.