Supreme Court Affirms Florida Rule on Judicial Elections

The Supreme Court has delivered a small victory to those working to keep our elections free from corrupting influences. In the case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, at issue was whether states can prohibit judicial candidates from making personal solicitations to campaign contributors (in states which hold elections for judges). Lanell Williams-Yulee, a candidate for the county court in Hillsborough County, Florida, objected on First Amendment grounds to a rule barring direct personal solicitations.

The Court ruled 5-4 that states may prohibit such solicitations. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority:

“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… Judges, charged with exercising strict neutrality and independence, cannot supplicate campaign donors without diminishing public confidence in judicial integrity.”

Joining Roberts in the majority were Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg. Dissenting were Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito.

Note that the decision does not make these personal solicitations by judicial candidates unconstitutional. It merely affirms that states have a legitimate interest in barring them. Texas currently has no such rule — but perhaps this new decision will lead to a change.

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