Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: October 2, 2014
  • Case #: 13-1499
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 138 So. 3d 379 (Fla. 2014)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a rule of judicial conduct that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.

Florida, like a majority of states, elects its judges. The majority of states also prohibit judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. They are allowed, however, to establish committees to collect contributions and manage their campaigns. That rule is adopted from the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct.

When Petitioner announced her candidacy for a Florida judgeship, she signed a mass-mail letter in which she requested contributions. She was quickly sanctioned. In response to her First-Amendment challenge, the Florida Supreme Court noted that, although the prohibition violates the First Amendment, it is narrowly tailored. Florida has "a compelling state interest in preserving the integrity of its judiciary and maintaining the public's confidence in an impartial judiciary," and the prohibition is narrowly tailored because the campaign-committee option leaves open "ample alternative means for candidates to raise the resources necessary to run their campaigns."

Petitioner petitioned to the Supreme Court for certiorari arguing that because this prohibition is content- and speaker-based, it must pass strict scrutiny in order to survive under the First Amendment. Petitioner posits that it does not. She agrees that maintaining impartiality is a compelling state interest, but argues that this prohibition "does too much, and does too little, to advance" it. It does too much because it bans large speeches and mass-mailings where there is very little danger of even the appearance of a tit for tat arrangement. There is no way, she argues, that by affixing a signature to a mass mailing, a candidate can even know who donates and who balks at the request. The ban does too little because it permits committees to engage in individual solicitation. Nothing prevents the candidate from learning who donates and who scoffs at their committee's requests.

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