Justice Canady ignores his conflict of interest in high-profile abortion ban case

Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady with his wife, State Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland, left, and daughter Julia Canady who works in the executive office of Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Florida Supreme Court

By Dan Christensen and Noreen Marcus,

Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady has an undeclared conflict of interest amid the high court’s review of a strict abortion ban passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year.

In April, within months of the ban after the 15th week of pregnancy becoming law, the Legislature and DeSantis enacted an even tougher ban co-sponsored by Canady’s wife, freshman State Rep. Jennifer Canady, R-Lakeland. This six-week ban would all but eliminate legal abortion in Florida.

But the fate of the new law pushed by Rep. Canady depends on how the Supreme Court rules in Planned Parenthood of Southwest & Central Florida’s lawsuit against the state.

And despite the conflict of interest with his legislator wife, Justice Canady has not disqualified himself from participating in the case by filing a recusal.

Planned Parenthood, its co-plaintiffs and more than a dozen other groups that have filed “friend of the court” briefs on their behalf argue that the 15-week abortion ban violates Florida’s constitutional protection of individuals’ privacy rights.The 15-week ban took effect July 1, 2022 and doctors who perform abortions in violation of the law can face felony criminal penalties and loss of their licenses to practice medicine.

The privacy clause was added to Florida’s constitution after 60.6 percent of voters supported it in a 1980 referendum. The high court itself upheld it in 1989 and declared the law protects the right to abortion. But if the court reverses course and decides the state constitution doesn’t legalize abortion, the six-week abortion ban will be triggered automatically and take effect 30 days later.


The seven-member court has yet to announce whether it will hear oral argument in the high-profile Planned Parenthood case that began last August. Justice Canady – who has twice served stints as chief justice – and his colleagues have accepted dozens of legal briefs from both sides for their consideration before rendering a ruling.

Paul Flemming

Florida Bulldog sought to ask Justice Canady about his conflict of interest and why he has not stepped aside. “Justices are prohibited from discussing pending cases before the Supreme Court. Justice Canady is unable to speak to you,” said court spokesman Paul Flemming.

Florida Bulldog also requested comment about Justice Canady’s conflict from 10 attorneys representing the eight plaintiffs: Planned Parenthood, Gainesville Woman Care LLC, Indian Rocks Woman’s Center, St. Petersburg Woman’s Health Center, Tampa Woman’s Health Center, A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, Dr. Shelly Hsiao-Ying Tien and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation. None responded.

The judiciary is Canady’s second vocation. The Lakeland native served in the Florida Legislature for six years and then in Congress for four terms.

Canady started out as a “conservative Democrat” and switched parties during his state House days. He came to national attention in the late 1990s as one of a dozen U.S. House managers who prosecuted President Bill Clinton at his Senate impeachment trial. Clinton was acquitted.

As a congressman, Canady is credited with—or blamed for, depending on one’s viewpoint—coining the term “partial-birth abortion,” which has tormented the pro-choice movement ever since.

Canady returned to Florida as Gov. Jeb Bush’s general counsel. After a stint on the Second District Court of Appeal, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him a justice in 2008.


In February 2022, as Jennifer Canady was campaigning for election to the state house, Florida Bulldog reported about how Justice Canady’s official decisions might soon be influenced by his personal interests: If she wins, the court that her husband leads may someday pass judgment on a law she sponsored. So would Canady recuse himself, or participate in the case anyway?

Rep. Jennifer Canady retweeted this message about her six-week abortion ban bill on April 13

He should stand down to avoid raising conflict-of-interest concerns, but he doesn’t have to, said Peter Joy, a judicial ethics professor from Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “It would be up to Canady to exercise his own judgment,” Joy told a reporter.

Today we know how Justice Canady exercised his judgment. And his refusal to excuse himself from the Planned Parenthood case despite the conflict posed by his wife’s direct involvement suggests he is unconcerned by either public perception or the rules that apply to the state’s judiciary.

Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct is a set of seven general rules, or canons. They don’t describe every instance of human behavior, and consequently don’t touch on a situation in which a judge or justice’s spouse is a member of the Legislature and proposes a bill that is enacted into law and then comes before the court for review.

Rather, the code requires judges to “uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary” and instructs they “shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” and “perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently,” the code says.

“There is also something called common sense,” said one former justice who spoke anonymously.


Why Justice Canady has chosen to keep the case and help decide it isn’t immediately clear. He’s not a swing vote whose absence would turn the tide in favor of the “pro-choice” crowd. He could simply want to be a part of what promises to be a memorable capstone to the anti-abortion movement in Florida.

Under Republican Govs. Ron DeSantis and Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator, the state Supreme Court has been transformed into a conservative bastion that generally agrees with the governor and the Legislature. DeSantis handpicked five of the court’s seven members. Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Canady and Justice Jorge Labarga, the court’s last remaining moderate.

Gov. Ron DeSantis chose five of the Supreme Court’s seven justices

Canady’s ideological fellows on the Supreme Court can surely be counted on to deliver, by hook or by crook, a “pro-life” victory that will spell the effective end of a woman’s right to obtain an abortion on demand in Florida.

To make that happen, though, the justices must redefine and narrow Florida’s constitutional right to privacy. And that will require some judicial flip-flopping.

For example, as The Washington Post first reported, in 2004 Chief Justice Carlos Muniz – then a private attorney – wrote an article for the Journal of the James Madison Institute that abortion rights activists are citing in the pending Planned Parenthood case.

“One purpose of the privacy amendment clearly was to give the abortion right a textual foundation in our state constitution,” Muniz wrote.


Meanwhile, the court’s been laying the groundwork for change for some time.

As Florida Bulldog has previously reported, it’s hard to argue that a government-enforced ban on abortion is valid under established Florida law that defines privacy as an individual’s “right to be let alone.” But judges can change definitions, and the Supreme Court is expected to redefine privacy to mean only the right to keep certain information out of the public domain.

John Stemberger

A legal theory called originalism that has gained popularity among conservatives in recent years can be customized to explain the rewrite. Originalism is based on the idea that whatever a law’s drafter intended it to achieve should forever after determine how the law is interpreted and applied.

In a June 26, 2022 opinion column for the Tallahassee Democrat, anti-abortion crusader John Stemberger gave the Supreme Court the rationale it needs to narrow privacy law and end abortion protection. He used originalism-style analysis to make his point.

“The privacy amendment was birthed directly out of a nationwide debate over governmental intrusion into the private lives of citizens” after the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, Stemberger wrote. He asserted the abortion debate that also was raging at the time had nothing to do with the amendment.

The Orlando attorney is a close friend of the present court. He attended the investitures of Justices Muniz and Jamie Grosshans and, like them, mingles in Federalist Society circles.

Stemberger has effusively supported DeSantis’s Supreme Court choices, “which will have a positive effect on our state for decades to come,” Florida Daily quoted him saying in January 2019.

Early in 2022, Stemberger and his Florida Family Policy Council scored a private tour of the Supreme Court building in Tallahassee with now-Chief Justice Muniz as their guide. An inside court source told Florida Bulldog the tour was perceived among courthouse staffers as a pre-victory lap for abortion opponents.

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Latest comments

  • The state of Florida is moving closer and closer to being governed by autocrats like Desantis and it looks like the Florida Supreme Court is moving closer and closer to being nothing but a pure right wing entity. Which means more and more personal rights given to American citizens by the Constitution are being trampled on. Personally, I wonder what has happened to citizens who applaud the trampling on civil rights. I wonder how they will feel if the state or country is governed by an autocrat who thinks taking away the rights of people is okay! More than one person currently running for president now is an autocrat. If they win your rights and certainly women’s right will be trampled on.

  • In all fairness, it is the rights of unborn children being targeted for abortion that are being trampled on by us women.

    We women, no less than men, are creatures of intellect and free will. We have the integral intelligence to appreciate our human nature, our feminine nature — and the free will to respect our nature, including our natural ability to conceive and bear our children, to bring them safely to birth, and to mother them responsibly before as well as after birth.

    Extreme pro-abortion ideologues have turned pregnancy and motherhood into an allegedly monstrous invasion of “privacy” and an offense against “personal autonomy” to be seen as an unjust “burden” that only we women are “forced” to bear.

    Ironically, if we women are to be represented as victims at all, it might be said to be because we have fallen victim to a deviant ideology. Pro-abortion ideologues have mistaught us that the unborn — these “parasites” in our wombs — are an intolerable threat to our own health and happiness, before assuring us that we have every right to exterminate them.

    Certainly, when it comes to “choices,” we women have every right to choose what political party we will vote for, what job we will do, what friends we will make, what we will wear each day and what we will have for breakfast.

    But none of us has a discretionary right to abuse another human being who is utterly defenseless and temporarily under our control and in our primary care.

    No human being has absolute ownership and lethal disposal rights over another human being, no matter how small or dependent or “unwanted.”

  • It turns my stomach every time I hear the term “abortion rights” or “a right to an abortion.” That’s like saying a right to kill, and no one has that right although some have that defense. Abortion laws grew out of concern for a woman’s right to privacy concerning her health and that of her unborn baby. The concept was that if the mother’s health, considering also the health of her unborn child, were at risk, and an abortion were recommended by her doctor as a course of action to protect the mother’s health (though it was not clear if that meant only her physical health, but also her mental health –which I suspect it did), then that medical decision was a private matter between the mother and her doctor. Many women, in the time before Roe -v- Wade, found themselves going to “underground” clinics for abortions, and some lost their lives due to unsanitary practices. Obviously, that is also a concern. Unfortunately, it did not take long after Roe -v- Wade before the abortion industry started to spin that decision as a “right to an abortion.” NOTHING in Roe -v- Wade says that there is a RIGHT to an abortion. Read the decision if you do not believe me. It spoke only in the context of a privacy right. I am not in favor of a return to the broad based, generally untethered decision of Roe -v- Wade. However, I am all for privacy rights, and if a mother’s health is at risk then that decision between her and her doctor makes sense. BUT p-l-e-a-s-e do not call abortion a “right.” Privacy is a right — not abortion. Murdering an unborn child as a form of birth-control and not for a legitimate medical concern is sickening. BOTTOM LINE: This is a much more difficult issue with nuances than many do not consider.

    As for whether Justice Canady should recuse himself or not, in my opinion it could turn on how the specific issues are addressed in the briefs. But, prudence and precedence would seem to require recusal, and Justice Canady still has plenty of time to recuse himself. Considering the conservative nature of the other justices, I doubt Canady’s recusal would matter at all to the outcome. I just hope all concerned are able to think through a course that reaches the sensibility of abortion being a private medical concern while also protecting the natural rights of the unborn to have a life on earth outside of the womb.

  • It’s Really easy.

    ABORT FLORIDA’S Supreme Court

    After first hand, on two occasions , and filing a legitimate fact-filled complaint to the JQC, on a crooked, corrupt, dangerous and inexperienced, Rethena Francis, who lied on her application, answering, “No”, when askes if she had any complaints filed againts her.

    Clearly and knowingly, Mine being one, as well as others she was aware of.

    Even more terrifying. DeSatinist is even MORE dangerous by hand picking her to the bench. With her clearly knowing she would be, after her denial, two years ago.

    This Just so he can use her as a life line on anything brought before the High Court.

    Bottom line, with her being anywhere near the bench, let alone on it. There is little to no hope, for


  • Mr. Wade, you mentioned the JQC only in casual passing. As pro se litigant, both Defendant and Counter-Plaintiff against Bank of America for the past FIFTEEN (15) YEARS, (the endless continuation of ONE case that began in late 2008), I speak from much experience when I say that the JQC is a prejudiced, corrupt judge’s BEST FRIEND! The three “C” words that best describes the Florida judicial system is ….CORRUPTION – CRONYISM – COVER UP! The JQC routinely PROTECTS errant judges from the consequences of their blatant violations of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct by summarily DISMISSING valid, well-supported Complaints – because they CAN! An accurate description of the Florida judges I’ve encountered and the JQC is “ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTING ABSOLUTELY!” We need to get rid of the current members of the JQC, especially its Executive Director, BLAN TEAGLE. Then, we need to get rid of all the shitty, corrupt judges as well!

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