BRIEF: Court Should Uphold Arizona's Rules Protecting Judicial Integrity

June 15, 2015

The Ninth Circuit should uphold Arizona’s rules of judicial conduct limiting partisan political activity by sitting judges and judicial candidates, the Brennan Center argued in an amicus brief. Such canons help protect the judiciary from political influence and bolster public confidence in the courts.

This is the first judicial conduct case since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar in which the Court upheld Florida’s prohibition against the personal solicitation of campaign contributions by judicial candidates. In nearly every state, along with the federal judiciary, judges are also bound by codes of conduct limiting political activity.

The brief also argues that rules like Arizona’s should be found constitutional regardless of the means of judicial selection a state chooses to adopt.

“As the Supreme Court affirmed earlier this year, judges are not politicians,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arizona adopted rules of judicial conduct specifically to protect the integrity of its courts and insulate judges and judicial candidates from partisan politics. The 9th Circuit should follow the Supreme Court’s lead and uphold protections that keep Arizona courts fair, impartial, and independent.”

Randolph Wolfson — an Arizona attorney who campaigned for a judgeship in Arizona in 2008 and lost — claims his First Amendment rights were violated by Arizona’s Code of Judicial Conduct, which limits the political activity and fundraising of both judges and judicial candidates, among other restrictions.

Wolfson challenged the code and a three judge panel for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, voiding some provisions of Arizona’s Code of Conduct for non-judges running in judicial elections. The court ruled that the need for judges to appear impartial does not apply to those who many never be elected. The Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct filed a petition for a rehearing en banc before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the court agreed to rehear the case.

The amicus brief was submitted in support of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct on behalf of the Brennan Center for Justice, the Arizona Judges’ Association, Justice at Stake, The Campaign Legal Center, Inc., and Lambda Legal.

Read the brief here.

Read about the case here.

For more information, please contact Seth Hoy at seth.hoy@nyu.edu or 646-292-8369.