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FTC Files Complaint for Judge's Strange and Unprecedented Order

By Zach Klein, FTC intern

Fix the Court’s Gabe Roth filed a complaint against N.D. Texas Judge Brantley Starr today for assigning the Alliance Defending Freedom to carry out eight hours of “religious-liberty training” for three of Southwest Airlines attorneys as part a sanctions order Starr handed down last week.

It’s our belief it’s not appropriate for any sectarian organization to handle any part of attorney sanctions. Judge Starr’s directive sets a concerning precedent and showcases a lapse in judgment for which he should face repercussions.

While “training” can be an acceptable sanction in an areas like ethics, none of the examples of mandated training highlighted by Judge Starr in his order is religion-based (for a reason; there are none!). This highlights the unique and irregular nature of his decision. (Judge Starr also references a situation where the ADF conducted a “‘First Amendment training session’” for three professors, but the key here is that the session was mutually agreed upon as part of a lawsuit settlement.)

That Southwest is contesting the training requirement here signifies its unprecedented and incongruous nature.

Relatedly, there’s a distinction between ethics training and religious-liberty training that should be clear. The teaching of legal ethics revolves around universally recognized principles; in contrast, the realm of religious liberty is filled with varied beliefs and perspectives, and it’s not the court’s place to favor one religious viewpoint over another, which it appears to be doing here.

Judge Starr’s directive, which contradicts Canon 3 of the Code of Conduct, demands scrutiny. We call on the Judicial Council to reprimand Judge Starr and ensure he refrains from assigning such unusual and unparalleled sanctions in the future.

And should the complaint be dismissed on the merits for whatever reason, we’re seeking an inquiry to examine any potential private communication between ADF and Judge Starr leading up to the order.

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