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US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on judicial campaign contributions
US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on judicial campaign contributions

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] on Tuesday will hear oral arguments [hearing list, PDF] for the case Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] which may undo campaign finance restrictions on state judicial candidates around the country. The plaintiff Lanell Williams-Yulee was a county judge candidate in Florida, who during her 2009 campaign sent out a mass email asking for donations. For her actions in seeking donations via email, Williams-Yulee was fined by the state of Florida in which she appealed the sanctions to the Florida Supreme Court [official website] arguing that her First Amendment [text, LII] rights had been violated. Williams Yulee’s case backed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] and other First Amendment groups was granted certiorari last fall. The argument by the plaintiff uses Justice Kennedy’s concurrence from Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, which states that a “state cannot opt for an elected judiciary and then assert that its democracy, in order to work as desired, compels the abridgment of speech.” Critics speculate that an opinion will be delivered by the court this coming spring.

Political donations and campaign finance [JURIST backgrounder] have been highly litigious issues in the US, especially since the 2010 US Supreme Court ruling [JURIST report] in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] permitting corporations to be considered individuals when contributing to election campaigns, in essence allowing for functionally unlimited donations to political campaigns. In September the US District Court for the District of Colorado [official website] denied a request [JURIST report] by Citizens United [advocacy website] for a preliminary injunction to allow the conservative organization to air a political documentary without disclosing the film’s advertising donors as required by state law. In April the court ruled [JURIST report] 5-4 in McCutcheon v. FEC [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that limits on overall campaign contributions by individual donors are unconstitutional. The decision in McCutcheon readdressed the Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo [opinion] which ruled that limits on contributions implicate First Amendment interests, but that limits may be imposed so long as they are narrowly drawn to further a compelling governmental interest.