Justices weigh would-be judges’ appeals for campaign cash

19 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Judges, With Hat in Hand.

WASHINGTON — Voters in the Tampa area didn’t think much of Lanell Williams-Yulee’s campaign for county judge in 2010, and the group that regulates Florida’s lawyers didn’t much like her campaign tactics. WASHINGTON — Almost five years to the day after the Citizens United decision reshaped American politics, the Supreme Court on Tuesday will turn its attention to judicial elections.For years, those who favor restrictions on campaign spending have insisted that their real interest lies in fighting corruption, not limiting political speech.

Along with being drubbed in the election, she was hauled before the Florida Bar for violating its ban on personally soliciting campaign contributions by sending a “Dear Friend” letter asking for money. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could undo state laws around the country that limit judicial candidates from asking potential donors for campaign contributions. In the other corner: Lanell Williams-Yulee, a losing county court candidate who ran afoul of that canon in 2009 and was reprimanded for signing a fundraising letter.

But 30 of the 39 states with judicial elections have tried to draw the line by forbidding judicial candidates to personally ask for money, saying that such solicitations threaten the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial system. Like similar laws in 29 of the other 38 states where at least some judges are elected, it was a straightforward way to reduce a serious threat to judicial independence. Instead, “the ask” must come from a separate campaign committee, a system designed to insulate judges from bias toward the lawyers and litigants who donate — or choose not to — and then come before them in court.

The lawsuit was brought by Yanell Williams-Yulee, a lawyer who was disciplined for writing, signing and sending a fund-raising letter to voters in 2009, when she was running to be a county court judge. Florida’s law allows contributions of up to $1,000 to judicial campaigns, and that limit cannot be significantly lowered (much less banned) without violating the First Amendment. On the other hand, the concept of judges as neutered referees without ideological leanings was debunked by President Obama in 2009 as he considered his first Supreme Court nomination, which eventually went to Sonia Sotomayor.

Nobody would suggest that their selection is totally free of politics, but potential federal judges are spared from addressing campaign rallies, forming political alliances, raising funds and kissing babies. In state Supreme Court races alone, $207 million was spent between 2000 and 2009, up from $83 million in the preceding decade, according to a study by several groups concerned about money in politics. Marcus Carey, who twice lost judicial elections in Kentucky, said there was no point to requiring that contribution requests be made through intermediaries. “There are fund-raising events,” said Mr. Appointment of state judges was also the rule in the earliest years of this country, but in the 19th century some states moved to making the position elective. If the court elects to exercise its inherent power to interpret the Constitution in a manner that fetters the explicit power of parliament to amend the Constitution, it would be stepping on the wrong side of democratic and jurisprudential principles as well as public opinion.

Only Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont and Virginia appoint all judges. In 2002, the court struck down rules aimed at fostering impartiality among judges that barred candidates for elected judgeships from speaking out on controversial issues. They agree that states have a compelling interest in protecting judicial independence, but argue that the ban on direct requests for cash is futile, since candidates may still establish fund-raising committees and express their gratitude to individual donors. Let us acknowledge that even after 67 years of our existence we still have no consensus over what constitutes our basic norm (Kelson’s Grundnorm) ie the basis of legitimacy of our legal system. Yet the court’s decision may be more far-reaching: if it finds the Florida ban unconstitutional, Myers said, the bans in states with similar rules will likely be invalidated. “It’s a blanket prohibition on speech, including some speech which is fairly innocuous and probably doesn’t rise to the level of the concerns that were the reasons it was put in place to begin with,” Myers said.

But the decision to recuse is generally left up to the individual judge, and the survival of remaining contribution limits under the current Supreme Court is far from certain. And the truth is that military coups have come along with a conformist consensus that breach of the Constitution was in the best interest of the country and its people. Like most campaign-finance restrictions, the speech ban on solicitation places another burden on challengers running for office — particularly those who lack the wealth to finance their own campaigns. Williams-Yulee argued in court papers that states that worry about bias among judges should focus on rules that force judges to recuse themselves in cases where they may have a conflict or limits on the size of campaign contributions.

Four former chief justices from those states filed a brief describing their own use of a practice they said was “ingrained in our political and legal cultures.” In an interview, one of the former chief justices, Thomas R. But the distinguishing feature between what a majority of the judges did in 2000 and what they did in 2007 was not application of any principle of justice but public opinion. Phillips, who served on the Texas Supreme Court, added that “dialing for dollars sometimes results in untoward things slipping out during those conversations.” Mr. Judicial elections — once sleepy contests removed from the blood sport of politicking — have become multi-million dollar contests in recent election cycles. Former elected chief justices in Alabama and Texas — which permit candidates for judgeships to ask for campaign funds — called on the court to uphold the prohibition and said they are “well-acquainted with the genuine dangers — and sometimes actual abuse” when candidates solicit contributions from lawyers and others.

Some of the backers of the limits also have pointed to comments from retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has suggested that she regrets her vote in the 5-4 decision in 2002 to strike down the rules on what judicial candidates can say. Candidates for state high courts spent at least $5.2 million on television ads, with Michigan candidate Richard Bernstein spending an estimated $1.3 million for his successful election campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity’s analysis of data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG. That’s something to keep in mind the next time self-appointed campaign-finance reformers — whose legal briefs unanimously support the Florida law — tell us that their proposed restriction won’t impact our First Amendment freedoms. Florida Bar, No. 13-499, concerns Lanell Williams-Yulee, who lost a race for a seat on the county court in Hillsborough County, Fla., which includes Tampa.

But in a friend-of-the-court brief, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that “campaign speech by candidates for judicial office, like campaign speech by candidates for other offices, is entitled to the highest degree of First Amendment protection.” Such a view was underscored by Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in the 2002 ruling on The Republican Party of Minnesota v. But the judiciary under Iftikhar Chaudhry failed Pakistan and its people: it did nothing to augment the judiciary as an institution and revive public faith in the ability of the judicial organ to dispense justice in a fair and expeditious manner.

In a landmark 1976 case, the court said that the 1st Amendment is not violated by election laws that seek to prevent the “appearance of improper influence” over candidates. But there are few who can stand up and claim in all earnestness that courts are doing a decent job and should be allowed to continue doing what they are doing. That’s a sensible position on the part of the court, yet a ruling for Williams-Yulee would weaken that principle, not just in cases involving judicial elections but also in cases involving other sorts of restrictions, including limits on contributions to candidates for Congress and the presidency.

In barring not only one-on-one requests but also mass mailings and speeches to large groups, one of her briefs said, Florida’s solicitation ban censors speech that is unlikely to give rise to judicial corruption. If there is a basic norm in Pakistan that is recognised as a legitimising factor more than others, it unfortunately is new utilitarianism or consequentialism (ie in crude form, ‘ends justify means’). The ban also does too little, the brief continued, by allowing candidates to raise money through campaign committees and then personally thank their donors. If we disregard public opinion as an extraneous consideration, the legal and jurisprudential arguments for striking down the 21st Amendment are even weaker. A fourth left the court in connection with a scandal including draft opinions ghostwritten by lobbyists. “Florida is unlike all the other states that have elected judges,” said Mr.

India’s basic structure doctrine, despite being a judicial construct, gained acceptance for it was employed to protect property rights of people and to prevent Indira Gandhi from suppressing her own prosecution after declaring a state of emergency. The mass mailing was a decidedly impersonal solicitation and did not yield contributions, let alone the quid pro quo exchanges that judicial campaign donations may invite. To argue that its basic features can only be amended by a constituent assembly would only be a judicial contrivance to second-guess parliament’s wisdom without acknowledging so.

Williams-Yulee, said less restrictive ways of ensuring judicial integrity included bans on one-on-one solicitations of parties in pending cases, the required disclosure of contributions and public financing of judicial elections. You can also email the Blog Desk if you have an opinion or narrative to share, or reach out to the Special Projects Desk to send us your Photos, or Videos.

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