Archive for the 'Judicial Elections/Campaigns' Category
Professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, has maintained a lively defense of Justice Ginsburg's comments critical of Donald Trump, writing first in the New York Times and then elaborating on his position in a Los Angeles Times op-ed and a podcast discussion with one of his faculty members, Rick Hasen. It's an interesting and instructive case about how the intensity of feelings about particular issues and candidates tends to drive views of the First Amendment and in particular of the wisdom of campaign finance restrictions. For Chemerinsky, in defending Justice Ginsburg, insists that more political speech is better than less, and he is clearly moved in saying so by what he views as the exceptional importance of the question – – the potential election of Donald Trump – – that Justice Ginsburg was addressing.
This is another application of the test of conviction on political spending issues. To what extent, when the stakes are high, will citizens and activists tolerate being told that they can’t spend however much they want, or operate as freely as they choose, in advancing public policy positions or promoting candidates?
The Ninth Circuit yesterday issued a decision on judicial campaign finance, Wolfson v. Concannon, controlled by and very much in the spirit of Williams-Yulee. Arizona may prohibit a judicial candidate from directly soliciting campaign contributions, and also from endorsing nonjudicial candidates and participating in their campaigns. The Court found the State to have a compelling interest sufficient to cover all the prohibitions: “an interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the state’s sitting judges.” After that, it was smooth sledding, courtesy of Williams-Yulee, and the Court batted away the plaintiff’s claims that the bans were both under-and over-inclusive, and that Arizona could have employed less restrictive means of satisfying its interest.
A concurrence by Judge Berzon adds a note of genuine interest to an otherwise predictable, workmanlike analysis. She suggests that the prohibition on endorsements of and campaigning for other candidates was more correctly considered in relation to another interest, equally compelling, in the independence of the judiciary. Williams-Yulee may well control the outcome on the question of personal fundraising, but “the bans on endorsements and campaigning for nonjudicial candidates and causes… are quite different.” Supporting those bans is an interest in
society’s concern with maintaining both the appearance and the reality of a structurally independent judiciary, engaged in a decision-making process informed by legal, not political or broad, nonlegal policy considerations.Berzon writes that prohibiting alliances between judicial and other candidates protects against “politicization” of the judiciary. Her concern is not the risk of bias in particular decisions but instead preserving a “structurally independent judiciary. “
As the Supreme Court prepares to hear argument on the challenged ban on personal fundraising by judicial candidates, writers arguing for the preservation of this prohibition continue to make their case. Kate Berry of the Brennan Center replies to a posting here and disagrees with the proposition that it is hard to see a major benefit from a restriction on speech described as “modest.” Garrett Epps shares her position that the prohibition should be upheld. In each case, the writers maintain that if we have to have judicial elections, they should be subject to special rules to safeguard public confidence in an independent judiciary and that this is one such rule.
What is offered in support of this position?
A solid case can be made that judges should not be picked in elections because forcing them to become candidates, and to campaign, taxes confidence in the courts. But many judges are picked by election and then the question becomes how much to bemoan, as do Rick Hasen and Dahlia Lithwick, the predictably aggressive campaigning that these candidates, their allies and their opponents may adopt to win. Campaigns are campaigns, and it is not easy to sort out which particular set of rules or standards should apply only to judicial contests. Expectations may well be different for judges, encapsulated in a sense that they should be above the political fray, but once they become candidates and are thrust into the middle of political contention, are those expectations realistic?
Another question is how many of the same critics troubled by the raw political behavior on display in judicial campaigns can maintain that position while calling attention to the “political” bias in judging. A “cataract of studies” have shown that judges’ partisan backgrounds and ideologies, among other factors, influence how they will decide issues which are standard subjects of political differences—issues like reproductive rights, or the role of markets or government, or policing methods. Eric Posner, “Does Political Bias in the Judiciary Matter?: Implications of Judicial Bias Studies for Legal and Constitutional Reform,” 75 U. Chi. L. Rev. 853 (2008). In other words: issues that voters might care most about. And yet Hasen and Lithwick quote, critically, this passage from a judicial candidate’s appeal for votes:
I am a Republican and you should vote for me. You’re going to hear from your elected officials, and I see a lot of them in the crowd. Let me tell you something: The Ohio Supreme Court is the backstop for all those other votes you are going to cast. Whatever the governor does, whatever your state representative, your state senator does, whatever they do, we are the ones that will decide whether it is constitutional; we decide whether it’s lawful. We decide what it means, and we decide how to implement it in a given case. So, forget all those other votes if you don’t keep the Ohio Supreme Court conservative.