Spargo v. New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct
This case attracted considerable attention as one of the first post-White cases to threaten a much broader invalidation of ethical canons than White had required. It began when New York’s judicial disciplinary body investigated Justice Thomas A. Spargo for several alleged ethical violations, including participation in partisan political activity while serving as a New York judge. A federal judge declared that the rules were unconstitutional on their face and enjoined the a disciplinary proceeding that the state’s judicial conduct commission was about to commence.
The Center filed an amicus brief before the Second Circuit on behalf of several national and regional organizations that work to promote and preserve fair and impartial courts. The Center’s brief urged the Second Circuit to uphold the rules, arguing that there are constitutionally protected interests on both sides of the case, and that the rules are narrowly tailored to restrict only as much protected speech as is necessary to preserve the due process rights of litigants. On December 9, 2003, the appellate court vacated the District Court’s judgment on the grounds that the District Court should have abstained from hearing the case, requiring Justice Spargo to raise any constitutional defenses during the disciplinary process itself (and, if necessary, on appeal to the New York State Court of Appeals).