Supreme Court: Judicial Candidates Can't Solicit Campaign Funds

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on April 30, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court upheld a rule prohibiting judges from soliciting funds for their own election campaigns. The Florida Bar had disciplined Lanell Williams-Yulee for mailing and posting a letter online requesting financial contributions to her campaign.

The 5-4 decision united an odd group of justices, and may ask more questions than it answered. So let's take a look at what the Court said, through the opposing opinions.

A Little Background

Florida holds elections for judges, although there are rules about campaigning. Under Canon 7C(1) of the Florida Supreme Court's Code of Judicial Conduct, judicial candidates "shall not personally solicit campaign funds." The rule, however, does allow candidates to establish committees to raise money on their behalf.

Yulee challenged the Florida Bar, contending the prohibition on solicitation infringed her First Amendment rights. The Florida Supreme Court found the rule was narrowly tailored to promote public confidence in the integrity of the state's judiciary and the Supreme Court agreed.

A Little Back-and-Forth

Chief Justice John Roberts, normally aligned with the conservative side of the Court, this time led four of the more liberal justices in the majority. Justice Antonin Scalia authored the main dissent. Here are a few of their arguments:

Roberts: "Judges, charged with exercising strict neutrality and independence, cannot supplicate campaign donors without diminishing public confidence in judicial integrity."

Scalia: "Neither the Court nor the State identifies the slightest evidence that banning requests for contributions will substantially improve public trust in judges."

Roberts: The judiciary "depends in large measure on the public's willingness to respect and follow its decisions. Public perception of judicial integrity is accordingly 'a state interest of the highest order.'"

Scalia: "Many States allow judicial candidates to ask for contributions even today, but nobody suggests that public confidence in judges fares worse in these jurisdictions than elsewhere.

Roberts: In any event, Florida can ban personal solicitation of campaign funds by judicial candidates without making them obey a comprehensive code to leading an ethical life."

In the end, the ban prevailed. It should be noted, however, that Florida does allow judges to write personal thank-you notes to campaign donors, so Southern hospitality ain't dead yet.

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