U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Restriction on Judges Raising Campaign Money

I blogged about this case in January.   https://reporteddecisions.com/2015/01/17/free-speech-vs-judicial-ethics/

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the sanctions levied against a judicial candidate for violating Florida’s rules prohibiting judicial candidates from directly soliciting campaign contributions.  Like most modern Supreme Court decisions, it was a close-call (5-4) and it is a maze of majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions.  I have not analyzed them fully yet.  But I am optimistic that this holding may suggest a willingness to allow states to hold judicial elections to a higher standard than other types of elections without running afoul of the First Amendment.  Here’s the first page of the actual decision, with a link to the rest of the decision.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/13-1499_d18e.pdf

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

_________________

No. 13–1499 _________________

LANELL WILLIAMS-YULEE, PETITIONER v. THE FLORIDA BAR

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF FLORIDA

[April 29, 2015]

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part II.

Our Founders vested authority to appoint federal judges in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and entrusted those judges to hold their offices during good behavior. The Constitution permits States to make a different choice, and most of them have done so. In 39 States, voters elect trial or appellate judges at the polls. In an effort to preserve public confidence in the integrity of their judiciaries, many of those States prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns. We must decide whether the First Amendment permits such restrictions on speech.

We hold that it does. Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money. We affirm the judg- ment of the Florida Supreme Court.

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