In a decision that surprised many, the U.S. Supreme Court last week upheld a Florida state law that prohibits judicial candidates from soliciting campaign donations. Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. The outcome was surprising because this is the first opinion in some time from the high court that restricted (rather than expanded) free speech rights. For example, compare this decision to the Court's rulings in favor of violent video games for children and Westboro Baptist Church protests at soldier funerals.
The case involved a Florida code of conduct for judges prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds. A Florida judicial candidate violated the code after she sent out a mass mailing asking for campaign donations, which she also posted on her campaign website. At her disciplinary hearing, she defended her actions by arguing that she had a First Amendment right to ask for campaign donations. She lost that argument, and her case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last week, the Supreme Court also rejected her argument, finding that the state had an important government interest in protecting the public confidence in the integrity of judges and judicial elections.
Interestingly, Florida judicial candidates are not prohibited from accepting campaign contributions - they just can't individually solicit or seek campaign contributions. A judge's committee can also solicit donations. In the Court's view, therefore, candidates for judicial office still had plenty of options to get their messages across and raise money, so long as they don't personally ask someone for money.
30 states have campaign limitations similar to Florida's ban, so the case has a broader impact than just to uphold Florida's law.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf