The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 Wednesday in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar [SCOTUSblog materials] that states may ban judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign donations. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court found that such restrictions do not violate the First Amendment [text]. Roberts wrote:
Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money.
Justice Antonin Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito also filed dissenting opinions.
Judicial candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee conducted a mass mailing seeking contributions for her judicial campaign. In response, she was charged by the Florida bar for violating a rule of judicial professional conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds. She was ultimately publicly reprimanded and forced to pay the costs of her disciplinary proceeding. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in January after granting certiorari [JURIST reports] in October..