SCOTUS Affirms Sanction of Florida Judicial Candidate

1stAmOn April 29, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed a Florida Supreme Court decision upholding disciplinary sanctions against Lanell Williams-Yulee, a candidate for County Court Judge in Hillsborough County.  See Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, Case No. 13-1499 (2014); Florida Bar v. Williams-Yulee, 138 So.3d 379 (Fla. 2014).  Williams-Yulee was disciplined by the Florida Bar for violating a Florida Bar Rule that requires judicial candidates to comply with Canon 7C(1), Code of Judicial Conduct.  Canon 7C(1) prohibits judicial candidates from “personally solict[ing] campaign funds.”  Williams-Yulee was found to have violated the rule when she mailed and posted online a letter soliciting campaign contributions.  SCOTUS undertook review after Williams-Yulee asserted that the solicitation letters were protected by the First Amendment.  The 5-4 decision, which drew dissents from Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy and Alito, held that Canon 7C(1) was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling State interest–preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.  The majority said, “[I]t is the regrettable but unavoidable appearance that judges who personally ask for money may diminish their integrity that prompted the Supreme Court of Florida and most other States to sever the direct link between jducial jandidates and campaign contributions.”  The dissenting opinions provide some interesting fodder for debate.  For example, Justices Scalia and Thomas called Canon 7C(1) a “wildly disproportionate restriction upon speech.”  In their opinion, “banning candidates from asking for money personally ‘favors some candidates over others–incumbent judges (who benefit from their current status) over non-judicial candidates, the well-to-do (who may not need to raise any money at all) over lower income candidates, and the well-connected (who have an army of potential fundraisers) over outsiders.”

The full opinion can be read here.

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