Important Win for Fair Courts at US Supreme Court Today

Des Moines, Iowa — In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar that banning state judges from personally soliciting campaign contributions is constitutional. Justice Not Politics joined several other state-based fair courts groups in an Amicus Brief supporting the ban. The brief was prepared and filed by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

Like Iowa, and many other states, Florida has a Code of Judicial Conduct that strictly prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions or personally accepting contributions. Florida’s lower court judges are elected. Iowa judges are all selected through a merit based process, but all face retention elections. The same code of conduct applies in both states. Judges cannot personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.

When the Florida Bar Association disciplined judicial candidate Lanell William-Yulee for violating this ban, she appealed the disciplinary sanction to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing the ban violates the First Amendment. The court sided with the Florida Bar. Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the Court:

“The State may conclude that judges, charged with exercising strict neutrality and independence, cannot supplicate campaign donors without diminishing public confidence in judicial integrity. Simply put, the public may lack confidence in a judge’s ability to administer justice without fear or favor if he comes to office by asking for favors.”

Justice Not Politics is celebrating the Court’s ruling today, as it means Iowa’s own Judicial Code of Conduct is safe from a similar challenge. “This is an important recognition that our citizens are best served when judges are beholden only to the law. Ideally, Iowa judges would never be put in a position to participate in political campaigning. Regardless of how aggressive political attacks against the courts may get, the ban on personal fundraising ensures that Iowa judges will keep their distance from the corrupting influence of money in politics,” stated Connie Ryan Terrell, board president of Justice Not Politics.

You can read the Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar ruling here:

Justice Not Politics (JNP) is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations and Iowans across the political spectrum, all who are committed to protecting Iowa’s courts and our system of merit selection and retention. JNP works through the power of a coalition, effectively demonstrating the importance of impartial courts in all areas of life and the broad support of Iowans in protecting our judicial system.