The Judicial Ethics Forum (JEF)

An Academic Discussion of Judicial Ethics, Discipline & Disqualification

Supreme Court to Permit Judges to Solicit Campaign Contributions Personally?

Posted by kswisher on Tuesday, January, 20, 2015

Readers undoubtedly know that the Supreme Court of the United States will soon decide whether judges, or at least judicial candidates, may solicit campaign contributions personally (i.e., in lieu of, or in addition to, the customary campaign committee of “responsible persons”).  The Court heard oral argument today.  It was not a disaster for those in support of limiting the actual and apparent corrupting effects of money (and judges’ direct solicitation of that money from the lawyers and parties likely to appear before them), but perhaps the best possible outcomes would be either a 5-4 decision upholding the Canon or a narrow decision essentially carving out a First-Amendment-driven, mass-mailing-like exception to the Canon.  (Williams-Yulee directly solicited money through a mass mailing, which generally does present less harm than in-person, telephonic, or other real-time solicitation.)  Interesting reading follows on this case and the oral argument:

(1) The Brennan Center posted a good summary of the case and links to all of the briefs, including the ACLU’s amicus brief (supporting judges who plan to mass-solicit money directly from anyone, including the lawyers and litigants who will appear before those judges) and the ABA’s amicus brief (supporting the Canon prohibiting such solicitation, whether in person or in writing).

(2) Adam Liptak from the New York Times just published a good summary of the oral argument.

(3) The transcript of the oral argument is here.  The Justices’ questions generally fall along anticipated ideological divides (e.g., the conservative Justices seem to support uninhibited solicitation of campaign contributions and the liberal Justices seem to support more regulation in judicial elections).  Justice Kennedy’s vote is key, and his few questions are not telling.  Stay tuned.

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