Should Judicial Candidates Be Permitted to Personally Ask for Campaign Donations?

With several open judicial seats up for grabs in Pennsylvania, many candidates are announcing their campaigns and arranging meetings with local political movers and shakers, nonpofits and community centers.

What they may not do under current law, though, is personally solicit campaign donations.

But that might change depending on the outcome of a Florida legal challenge, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, on the very matter of judicial candidates’ right to personally ask for donations.

Many nonprofits that advocate for fair elections have publicly opposed permitting judicial candidates from doing just that, though.

Here’s an example – a response from the Brennan Center for Justice:

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, a case in which the Court will decide whether Florida may prohibit judicial candidates from personally asking donors for campaign contributions.

Lawyers for the petitioner argued today that Florida’s rule violates judicial candidates’ First Amendment right to communicate with prospective voters. The Florida Bar, however, argued that the state’s compelling interest in protecting judicial integrity justifies the modest restriction on judicial candidate speech.

“Judicial candidates are fundamentally different than political candidates,” said Matthew Menendez, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Judges serve a unique role in our democracy as neutral arbiters of the law. States put rules in place to protect judges against the appearances of judicial bias. Allowing prospective judges to put a hand out to lawyers and litigants who may later appear before them in court may make people think twice about whether a ruling was influenced by the law or by the contents of a litigant’s pocketbook.”

Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar has broad implications for courts nationwide as 30 of the 39 states that elect their judges have similar restrictions in place. Although barred from personally soliciting campaign donations, judicial candidates may still fundraise through a separate campaign committee.

The Brennan Center for Justice and others filed an amicus brief in the case, available here.

What do you think?

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