For Immediate Release
June 10, 2003
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6736
Ruling Today in Watson and Raab
High court upholds rules of judicial ethics
New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, today issued two rulings confirming the constitutionality of the states ethical canons for judges. The court held that active judges cannot engage in partisan politics, and also said that candidates for judicial office cannot make promises to voters that interfere with the impartial administration of justice. Two judges who had been disciplined for violating these rules argued unsuccessfully that the rules violated the First Amendment. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law filed a friend of the court brief urging the court to uphold the canons. These decisions will help preserve every New Yorkers right to a day in court before a fair and impartial judge. The Court of Appeals emphasized that the state has an obligation to provide independent courts staffed with judges who have open minds and are free from political entanglements. When a judge has promised certain results to the voters, litigants naturally wonder if the judge is going to listen to their case, or if the result has been predetermined. There is no point to having a right to be heard if no one is listening. By the same token, when a judge is enmeshed in party politics and can be pressured by party bosses to use his or her office to the party’s advantage, litigants suspect that they are getting political justice, not real justice. Today’s decisions send a clear message to all judges that they have an obligation to be fair and to maintain the appearance of fairness, said J. J. Gass, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center and counsel to a group of organizations that joined the Brennan Centers brief.
The Brennan Center and other organizations also plan to file a friend of the court brief in a federal-court appeal in another case challenging the ethical canons. Last years decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the White case has led to nationwide attacks on the canons. We will continue to defend the canons around the country. Today’s decisions, coming from a respected state high court, should be persuasive to other courts, said Gass.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law unites thinkers and advocates in pursuit of a vision of inclusive and effective democracy. Our mission is to develop and implement an innovative, nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.