The Mezuzah Case — A Victory for Judge Diane Wood | Bleader

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Mezuzah Case — A Victory for Judge Diane Wood

Posted By on 11.13.09 at 01:35 PM

If federal judges are like the rest of us they have their good days and bad days, the assignments they really set their minds to and the ones where you wonder if while they were putting in their eight hours they also had a game of computer Scrabble going.

On Friday the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals announced that eight of its 11 judges, after meeting en banc, had decided that a lawsuit against a condominium association by a Jewish family that had been ordered not to display a mezuzah on its door could go to trial. (Here's Abdon Pallasch's report in the Sun-Times.) The rare en banc hearing reversed a two-to-one ruling against the Bloch family by a panel of three judges who'd dismissed the suit last year. But the dissenting judge, Diane Wood, easily had the better of the argument, not because she was right and her colleagues were wrong, or her words were clever while theirs were leaden, but because — if I may quote myself — "Wood simply took the matter more seriously" than they did. Her dissent was almost three times the length of Judge Frank Easterbrook's opinion for the majority and it was much more carefully reasoned. (Wood, Easterbrook, and the third judge in the original panel, William Bauer, were among the eight judges meeting en banc.)

It inspired the Blochs to press on, impressed the other judges, and in the end prevailed. Here's what I had to say about the Easterbrook and Wood opinions after they came down, and here's my comment when the 7th Circuit agreed to review the case en banc.

UPDATE: Later Friday, I received a statement from the defendants in the Bloch suit, the Shoreline Towers Condominium Association. It says:

"Shoreline Towers Condominium Association is disappointed that the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed its opinion. However, the Association looks forward to being vindicated by a trial on the merits based upon all the facts, not just the limited facts that were before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals for the narrow issue of whether the Plaintiff's claims were sufficient to even proceed to a trial."

A spokesperson for the association also noted that "the hallway rule at issue was revised in advance of this litigation."

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