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April 30, 2015 Practice Points

Supreme Court Upholds Ban on Judicial Campaign Solicitation

The scope of Williams-Yulee will be important for many states beyond Florida.

By Justin L. Heather

Today, the Supreme Court concluded that a Florida canon prohibiting judges running for election from personally soliciting campaign funds does not violate the First Amendment. Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 575 U.S. __ (2015). The Court concluded that Florida’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judicial system was compelling. “Simply put, the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors.”

The high court further held that the ban does not raise any underinclusivity issues because it is aimed directly at the conduct most likely to undermine public confidence in judicial officers. Namely, the canon addresses the problem of the perception of impropriety of judicial officers coming into office based on personal requests for favors and monetary contributions. The Court likewise did not find the canon overinclusive because it narrowed only a small part of free speech and thus was narrowly tailored, as judges cannot personally ask for contributions but can direct their campaign committees to do so.

Given that a majority of states have some form of judicial election or retention procedures, the scope of Williams-Yulee will be important for many states beyond Florida.

Keywords: litigation, young lawyer, Supreme Court, First Amendment, judicial elections

— Justin L. Heather, YAC Content Manager, The Quinlan Law Firm LLC, Chicago, IL

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