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Common Cause Hails Supreme Court Decision in Williams-Yulee

'A Much-Needed Blow for Judicial Independence'


The Supreme Court has delivered a sensible and much-needed blow on behalf of judicial independence with its decision in Williams-Yulee v. the Florida Bar, Common Cause said today.

"The court today has upheld the ability of states to safeguard the integrity of their courts by putting reasonable limits on fundraising by judges and candidates for judicial office," said Common Cause President Miles Rapoport.

Thirty-nine states allow voters to elect judges at the polls.

"The plaintiffs in this case apparently saw no problem with permitting judges to make direct appeals for money to lawyers and litigants. It is difficult to imagine a more direct invitation to corruption," Rapoport said. "We're gratified that the court's majority recognized the case as an attack on judicial integrity and was unpersuaded by the plaintiffs' specious First Amendment arguments."

Writing for the court, Chief Justice Roberts asserted that a "State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor--and without having personally asked anyone for money." A rule prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting money for their elections "advances the State's compelling interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary."

However Roberts drew a distinction between campaign finance rules that apply to legislators as opposed to judicial candidates. Unlike "politicians... a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors," he wrote.

"The Court apparently draws the line on the corrupting influence of money in our democracy when it comes to the judiciary," Rapoport said. "The court acknowledges that having judges solicit money from donors opens the door to corruption, undermines the public's confidence in a fair and impartial judicial system, and raises the specter of judges retaliating against donors who say no. This is all common sense.

The crisis we face in our for-the-highest-bidder democracy today is that the Court does not hold Congress, the President or state governments to the same standard. Chief Justice Roberts apparently sees no problem in having politicians cater to donors. That view is dangerous to our democracy.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.

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