Lambda Legal Urges Supreme Court to Uphold Florida Judicial Conduct Code

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December 26, 2014

Lambda Legal and six other advocacy groups filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case challenging the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judicial candidates from personally requesting campaign contributions.

The brief argues that public confidence in the judiciary is core to our democracy and regulation of direct solicitation in judicial elections is essential to maintaining that confidence.

Eric Lesh, Lambda Legal's Fair Courts Project Manager, says:

Spending in judicial elections is skyrocketing, with more that $54 million spent during the 2011-12 election cycle alone. This flood of money has dramatically altered the politics of judicial races, blurring the line that separates justice from politics. The stakes in this case are high. Judges have a responsibility to render decisions based on the law and a firm commitment to the Constitution’s core principles of equality and fairness. States must be able to place reasonable restrictions on how judges and judicial candidates raise money in order to guard against a perception among the public that justice is for sale.

In 2009, Lanell Williams-Yulee signed a letter seeking campaign contributions in her unsuccessful run for Hillsborough County Judge. The Florida Supreme Court found this to be a violation of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that a candidate “for a judicial office that is filled by public election between competing candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds.” Williams-Yulee challenged the reprimand, alleging that the rule infringed on her constitutionally protected right to free speech. The Court rejected that argument, leading to this appeal by Williams-Yulee. Lambda Legal joined the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Center for Media and Democracy, and Demos on the brief opposing her appeal.

Our brief argues that Florida has a compelling interest in promoting the appearance and reality of an impartial judiciary and that the Florida rule imposes a minor and justified restriction on judicial candidates. The statute helps protect the public’s confidence in the judiciary without infringing on a candidate’s ability to either discuss her qualifications or raise necessary campaign funds. 

Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project works to preserve judicial independence and improve access to justice for all people. The success of Lambda Legal’s work in courts depends on the ability of all our clients to receive a fair hearing.

Read the brief and the press release.