By Mark Joseph Stern, Slate.com,
The election of judges is one of the odder quirks of American democracy, and plenty of people—including many judges themselves—think it’s a pretty bad idea to force supposedly impartial arbiters of justice to grovel for votes. The dubious ethics of judicial elections hasn’t stopped 39 states from holding judicial races, but 30 of those states have at least tried to keep them as clean as possible by forbidding judges from personally soliciting contributions for their election campaigns. This seems like common sense: Judges aren’t politicians, and they shouldn’t be forced to act like them—especially when their donors could one day appear in their courtrooms.
But the court that brought you Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionis in short supply of common sense when it comes to campaign finance regulations. On Tuesday, the justices heard the case of Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, a challenge to a Florida rule barring judicial candidates from personally requesting campaign contributions. Lanell Williams-Yulee, a former candidate for county court judge in Hillsborough County, launched her campaign with a personalized mass-mail fundraising letter that asked for “an early contribution” to help her “raise the initial funds.” She promptly got charged with professional misconduct by the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court upheld Williams-Yulee’s sanction. Now she’s appealing it to the Supreme Court, under the theory that the First Amendment protects her right to ask voters for campaign cash.