Washington (CNN)The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a Florida rule that said that candidates for judicial office could not personally solicit funds while they are candidates.
Supreme Court upholds limits on judicial fundraising
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"Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot," Chief Justice John Roberts in an opinion joined by the liberals on the bench. "A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money."
Thirty-nine states use elections to select some of their judges, and 30 of those limit the ways that judicial candidates themselves can ask for money.
The case pitted the first amendment claims of the candidate against a state's effort to ensure impartiality of the judiciary.
At issue was Florida's Canon 7C(1) says that a candidate shall not "personally solicit campaign funds" but may establish fundraising committees.
The ruling is a loss for Lanell Williams-Yulee who was running for County Court judge in Florida in 2009. The Florida State bar disciplined Williams-Yulee for violating the state Code of Judicial Conduct after she signed and sent a mass mailing to potential supporters and requested campaign funds. She challenged her reprimand, arguing that such an across-the-board prohibition on candidate speech violated the First Amendment.
But Roberts called the rule narrowly tailored and said it served a compelling government interest.
"It is the regrettable but unavoidable appearance that judges who personally ask for money may diminish their integrity that prompted the Supreme Court of Florida and most other States to sever the direct link between judicial candidates and campaign contributions."
"The Supreme Court recognized the paramount importance of protecting the integrity of our courts," Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said in a statement. He said that a time of rising spending in judicial elections, the Court found that "campaign contributions can create an appearance and risk of favoritism."
Justice Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Anthony Kennedy and Alito filed dissenting opinions.
Scalia called the rule a "wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech." He said that he didn't question the Court's conclusion that States have a different compelling interest when regulating judicial elections than when regulating political ones.
But he said the rule does "not narrowly target concerns about impartiality."