Law School Case Brief
Williams-Yulee v. Fla. Bar - 575 U.S. 433, 135 S. Ct. 1656 (2015)
The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the vital state interest in safeguarding public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the nation’s elected judges. The importance of public confidence in the integrity of judges stems from the place of the judiciary in the government. Unlike the executive or the legislature, the judiciary has no influence over either the sword or the purse; neither force nor will but merely judgment. The judiciary’s authority therefore depends in large measure on the public’s willingness to respect and follow its decisions. Justice must satisfy the appearance of justice. It follows that public perception of judicial integrity is a state interest of the highest order.
Petitioner Yulee mailed and posted online a letter soliciting financial contributions to her campaign for judicial office. The Florida Bar disciplined her for violating a Florida Bar Rule requiring candidates to comply with Canon 7C(1) of its Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides that judicial candidates shall not personally solicit campaign funds but may establish committees of responsible person to raise money for election campaigns. Petitioner contended that the First Amendment protects a judicial candidate's right to personally solicit campaign funds in an election. The Florida Supreme Court upheld the disciplinary sanctions.
Does the State of Florida have a compelling interest in adopting the Code of Judicial Conduct that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds?
The court held that the State of Florida had a compelling interest in adopting Fla. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 7C(1), which prohibited candidates in judicial elections from personally soliciting campaign funds. The Canon was adopted to promote the state's interests in protecting the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public's confidence in an impartial judiciary. It was not fatally underinclusive, as it aimed squarely at the conduct most likely to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary--personal requests for money by judicial candidates--and it applied evenhandedly, regardless of viewpoint or means of solicitation. The court further held that it was narrowly tailored to serve the state's compelling interest and therefore did not violate the First Amendment.
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