Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals
> Facts about Diane Sykes
The National Abortion Federation opposes the nomination of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Diane Sykes to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Seventh Circuit covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Diane Sykes' statements and actions as a judge raise serious questions about her ability to fairly adjudicate questions of reproductive rights that will come before her.
Before joining the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Sykes served as a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. In 1993, Sykes presided over a case stemming from a protest outside of a Milwaukee reproductive health facility. Two protesters blocked access to the facility by binding their legs with welded pipes to the front of a car and had to be removed by firefighters with blowtorches. They were charged with disorderly conduct and found guilty.
Sykes chose to sentence the defendants to 60 days in jail, thirty days short of the maximum available penalty, despite the seriousness of their actions.1 More disturbing were her comments to the defendants at the sentencing:
"I do respect you a great deal for having the courage of your convictions and for the ultimate goals that you sought to achieve by this conduct."
She also characterized their actions as "positive efforts" and called their motives "pure."2 In response to recent questions of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sykes amazingly stated that the defendants were "not violent, assaultive, or threatening."3
Comments such as these are unacceptable. The defendants' actions were clearly illegal and a jury duly found them guilty. At sentencing they admitted that they wanted to "shut down the clinic"4 and therefore prevent women from accessing health care services. Protests such as these caused Congress to pass the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and recognize that aggressive and illegal tactics like the blocking of clinic entrances cannot be tolerated. While Sykes may feel that blocking access and making safe entrance to a health care facility is not assaultive or threatening, a woman seeking to exercise her constitutional right to seek reproductive health services would no doubt see it differently.
Diane Sykes did not appreciate the gravity of the actions of these antiabortion protesters eleven years ago, and has not reconsidered her comments in light of her nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Violence against reproductive health care providers is a risk and reality that providers and their patients confront on a daily basis. It is vital that the Senate confirm judges for lifetime appointments who can set aside personal biases and fairly and objectively consider legal matters.
The nomination of Diane Sykes to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals threatens the rights of women and health care providers in those states, and for those reasons NAF opposes her nomination.
- These defendants also had lengthy arrest records. One had been arrested 20 times for protests at reproductive health care facilities; the other 80 times. "Abortion Protesters Get 60 Days," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Feb. 10, 1993. In written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sykes indicated that their prior records were not admitted and therefore not considered when she sentenced them. She did not comment on whether this knowledge would have affected their sentences.
- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, supra note 1.
- Responses to Questions from Senator Dick Durbin for Diane Sykes, Feb. 19, 2004 (available at http://www.goldsteinhowe.com/blog/files/Sykes.pdf; no longer there as of 12/3/2009).
- Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, supra, note 1.