In a clash between the 1st Amendment and judicial ethics code, the
At issue are laws or ethics rules in 30 states which say judges may not "personally solicit" funds for their campaigns. The rules were being challenged on free-speech grounds by a public defender who ran for a county judgeship in Tampa, Fla., and signed a mass-mail letter seeking small contributions.
Lanell Williams-Yulee, the candidate, lost her race and was later fined $1,860 by the Florida Bar for violating its judicial code. Bar officials said judicial candidates may establish a campaign committee to solicit funds on their behalf, but they may not be seen as asking for the money directly.
Barry Richard, an attorney for the Florida Bar, said the aim is to "cut the link" between judges and fund-raising so as to preserve the public's confidence in an impartial judiciary.
"There's very little impact on that candidates's free speech," he told the court. "The only thing that it says it is you can't say to me: 'Give me money.'"
But he ran into sharp and skeptical questions from the court's conservatives who five years ago, in the Citizens United case, freed corporations, unions and others to spend unlimited sums on campaigns.
"The fundamental choice was made by the state when they said we're going to have judges elected," Chief Justice
Thirty-nine states elect at least some judges, and most of these states have adopted the American Bar Assn.'s code of conduct, which bars judges from asking for money. California was not cited among 30 states that enforce such a rule.
Andrew Pincus, a Washington lawyer for the unsuccessful Florida candidate, agreed it would be reasonable for states to forbid "face-to-face, one-on-one solicitation" of campaign money. But he said his client was fined for merely signing a fund-raising letter. He also noted that Florida allows judges to send personal thank-you notes to those who contribute to their campaigns.
As is often so, Justice
The issue of elected judges has posed a dilemma. On the one hand, judges have a special duty to be impartial and not to be seen as favoring some people who may have cases before them.
On the other hand, judges who must run for election have a free-speech right to campaign as a candidate, the high court has said. This includes the right to voice views on controversies, the court ruled in 2002.