Sanders Cnty. Republican Cent. Comm. v. Bullock

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 09-17-2012
  • Case #: 12-35543
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: District Judge Rakoff for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Schroeder
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the strict scrutiny standard, preventing political parties from endorsing a judicial candidate is not a necessary prerequisite to the compelling interest of maintaining a fair and independent judiciary.

Sanders County Republican Central Committee (“the Committee”) sought to publicly endorse judicial candidates, but Montana statute § 13-35-231 made it a criminal offense to do so. The Committee filed for injunctive relief in district court against Attorney General Steven Bullock, arguing that the statute was an unconstitutional restriction of its First Amendment right to free speech. The district court denied the Committee’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The Committee appealed, seeking injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of Montana’s statute against it and its members. The Committee showed that on its face, the statute restricted the Committee’s First Amendment rights based on the fact that the First Amendment prohibits fining and jailing of people engaged in political speech. Therefore, the statute is subject to strict scrutiny, because on its face it restricts political speech and threatens a fundamental right. The district court concluded that Montana has “a compelling interest in maintaining a fair and independent judiciary.” The Ninth Circuit determined that the district court erred in concluding that maintaining a fair and independent judiciary requires, as a prerequisite, that political parties be prohibited from endorsing judicial candidates. Therefore, the Court determined that “Montana lack[ed] a compelling interest in forbidding political parties from endorsing judicial candidates.” The Court concluded that the Committee would suffer irreparable harm if a preliminary injunction were not granted, because the Committee’s First Amendment rights were being chilled daily by threat of criminal prosecution. The Court determined that the balance of hardships weighed in favor of the Committee, and that the public interest under the Winter test favored injunction. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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