Fair Courts E-lert: Supreme Court Upholds Judicial Canon, Hears Same-Sex Marriage Case

May 1, 2015

THE SUPREME COURT

Court Upholds Prohibition of Personal Judicial Campaign Solicitation

In an important move protecting the integrity of the courts, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Florida rule prohibiting judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. In Wednesday’s 5-4 decision in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the majority opinion, penned by Chief Justice Roberts, emphasized that judges are different from representative politicians in finding the restriction compatible with the First Amendment. “Judges are not politicians,” he wrote, “even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot.” The Brennan Center and others filed an amicus brief urging the Court to uphold the constitutionality of the rule. The brief argued — and the Court agreed — that Florida’s rule is a reasonable and targeted response to the threat that personal solicitation poses to judicial impartiality. Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center, lauded the decision, saying that, “[a]t a time of rising spending in judicial elections, rules that preserve the public’s confidence in the judiciary are more important than ever.”

U.S. Supreme Court “Deeply Divided” After Same-Sex Marriage Arguments

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a much-watched case seeking a constitutional right to wed for same-sex couples. According to Adam Liptak for The New York Times, the justices “clash[ed] over what they saw as the right answer in the case and also over how to reach it.” “The questioning illuminated their conflicting views on history, tradition, biology, constitutional interpretation, the democratic process and the role of the courts in prodding social change.” On SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston describes Justice Anthony Kennedy, the expected swing vote, as hesitant to commit himself but leaning toward the petitioners. “From worrying about casting aside a ‘millennia’ of cultural norm and habit about who can marry, to wondering about whether America has had enough time to debate the issue, to a somewhat testy defense of the dignity that gay and lesbian couples would have in marriage, [by the end of argument] Kennedy appeared to have moved from hesitancy toward acceptance,” writes Denniston. The Court will deliver a decision in the case before it recesses this summer.

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

Two WI Justices Make Simultaneous Claims to the Post of “Chief”

A pending federal lawsuit has led to uncertainty over who is the current chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, reports Scott Bauer for the Associated Press. The lawsuit, filed by longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, would prevent a recently-passed constitutional amendment changing how the chief is selected from going into effect until her current term is up, in four years. Bauer reports that the amendment was certified on Wednesday and that, on the same day, the justices conducted an email vote, selecting Justice Patience Roggensack as chief. Bauer writes that Abrahamson’s attorney filed a letter with the U.S. District Court soon after, objecting to the vote and reiterating her belief that she remains chief. “The court, of course, has no procedure for election of a chief justice,” the letter reads, saying that the process used would not “constitute an appropriate implementation of the new constitutional amendment.” Justice Ann Walsh Bradley would have preferred to have the court wait until the federal case is resolved. “The case is currently pending before a federal judge,” Bradley told the Associated Press. “The issue he must decide is whether the constitutional amendment is to be applied retroactively and as a result any vote now appears premature because it’s unclear until we get the judge’s decision whether a vacancy even exists.”

COURT FUNDING

Editorial: Proposed Budget Cuts to WA Courts Would Harm Everyone

In Washington, the state Senate’s proposed budget includes a 23 percent cut to the Administrative Office of the Court’s (AOC) general fund budget, according to William Hyslop, president-elect of the Washington State Bar Association, in an opinion piece for The Spokesman-Review. Hyslop writes that the proposed reduction of nearly 10 million dollars to the AOC’s budget would prevent the state’s courts from being able to pay “for critical things such as data and information systems used by the courts, testing of interpreters, coordination of drug courts, training of court staff, research, managing grants for domestic violence programs, for youth intervention, for language access, and for family court services.” Noting that Washington devotes a smaller portion of its budget to the courts than any other state, Hyslop expresses further concern that the current Senate plans would cut it more severely than any other part of the state government. “[A]ccess to justice is being jeopardized,” writes Hyslop. “[A] fair and functioning judicial system is not a luxury.”