Courts & Crime

Supreme Court to hear judicial solicitation case

The Supreme Court on Thursday said it would consider whether rules blocking judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds violate the First Amendment.

It’s a case out of Florida, but the court’s ultimate decision will matter in the 39 states that currently provide for the selection or retention of judges by popular vote. These judicial elections, and the ever-rising amount of money they involve, have increasingly come under scrutiny from groups like the Brennan Center for Justice.

The newly granted Supreme Court case brings a challenge by Lanell Williams-Yulee, who was running for a judicial position in Hillsborough County, Florida. She signed a mass-mail letter soliciting contributions in 2009, and was subsequently sanctioned for violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

“Apart from directly suppressing speech in the most conspicuous of ways,” Williams-Yulee’s petition states, “personal solicitation bans encourage candidates for judicial office to censor themselves for fear that what they say may be taken as a solicitation.”

Circuits are sharply split on the question, making this a challenge ripe for resolution by the Supreme Court. Thirty of the states with judicial elections have rules similar to Florida’s, banning solicitation by the candidate.

“Judicial conflicts over the issues raised by the petition are likely to increase in the foreseeable future,” the Florida Bar acknowledged.

Though defending the solicitation ban, the Florida Bar agreed with Williams-Yulee that the high court should resolve the dispute.