Free Speech For People, along with retired Montana Supreme Court Justice (and Free Speech For People board member) James Nelson, has filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of a Florida campaign finance rule for judicial elections.
The challenged rule, which was drawn from the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign contributions, whether face-to-face, on the phone, or by signed letter. Instead, it requires them to set up campaign committees and have campaign staff or volunteers do the fundraising. About half of the states have similar rules in their judicial ethics codes. The challenge claims that this personal solicitation clause violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
Our brief argues that states have a compelling interest in protecting the dignity of the judiciary. From smooth functioning of everyday courtroom matters, to literal life-and-death decisions, to public acceptance of controversial legal judgments, our legal system depends on respect for judges and courts, and states already discipline judges and judicial candidates for failure to “maintain the dignity appropriate to judicial office” in many contexts. We argue that Florida could properly determine that it is undignified for sitting or aspiring judges to personally solicit donations, and that the spectacle of them doing so could lead to a loss of respect for the judiciary. The personal solicitation prohibition is a carefully crafted solution that enables judicial candidates to raise sufficient campaign funds through their campaign committees, without soiling the dignity of judicial office in the process.
The case is scheduled for oral argument on Tuesday, January 20, 2015, and the Court will probably issue its decision in the early spring.