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Just in: Supreme Court affirms ban on direct campaign solicitations by judges

Supreme courtIn an opinion with implications for those states where judges are elected, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in a plurality opinion that states can ban direct solicitations.

In the case out of Florida, Williams-Yulee v. Florida State Bar, lawyer Lanell Williams-Yulee landed in hot water with the state bar after, in connection with her candidacy for a county judgeship, she sent out a mass mailing with her signature asking for contributions.

Williams-Yulee challenged a state law banning direct requests for money by judges, saying it violated her First Amendment freedom of speech, but the Florida Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the prohibition was “one of a constellation of provisions designed to ensure that judges engaged in campaign activities are able to maintain their status as fair and impartial arbiters of the law.”

Of the 39 states that have some form of elections for judges, 30 prohibit judges from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

That’s not the case in North Carolina — one of the nine states which allow judicial candidates to directly ask for campaign contributions from attorneys and law firms as well as other members of the public.

That’s been the law here since 2003, when according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, the justices of the Supreme Court radically revised the rules of judicial conduct, without any input from the public:

North Carolina not only turned the political activity regulations on their heads—changing the basic canon from “A judge should refrain from political activity inappropriate to his judicial office” to the current “A judge may engage in political activity consistent with his status as a public official”—but also eliminated the Pledge or Promise Clause and the ban on candidates’ personally soliciting campaign contributions.

(The Pledge or Promise Clause prohibits judicial candidates from making “pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performances of the duties of the office.”)

The current judicial code of conduct allows judges to speak at political party events, personally solicit contributions, identify themselves as affiliated with a particular party and otherwise engage in activities “consistent with the judge’s status as a public official.”

Read more about the implications of the Williams-Yulee decision for North Carolina here.

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