En Banc Ninth Circuit Urged to Uphold Arizona Judicial Campaign Laws

On Friday, in Wolfson v. Concannon, the Campaign Legal Center joined with other nonprofit groups concerned with the integrity of the courts in filing an amici curiae brief urging the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to overturn a three-judge circuit panel ruling striking down Arizona rules for judicial campaigns. 

The three-judge circuit panel struck down Arizona’s ban on judicial candidates personally soliciting political contributions, as well as its ban on judicial candidates endorsing, speaking in favor of or campaigning for non-judicial candidates—but only as these bans apply to non-judge candidates.  In June 2014, the Legal Center and other groups filed an amici brief urging the full Ninth Circuit to review the ruling.  In September 2014, the court agreed to rehear the case en banc.

“The panel’s decision cannot be reconciled with Supreme Court precedent, which has been very clear in its support of safeguards designed to protect public faith in the judicial branch,” said Megan P. McAllen, Associate Counsel for The Campaign Legal Center.  “In its recent decision upholding Florida rules governing judicial campaign activity, announced less than two months ago, the Supreme Court again emphasized the vital importance of preserving public confidence in judicial independence and impartiality.  Striking down Arizona’s political activities rules would call into question the constitutionality of similar rules in all jurisdictions, or else only in those states that have judicial elections—but as the Supreme Court has found, states are entitled to enact rules that protect judicial integrity no matter how they choose to select their judges, by election or otherwise.”

In the last six years, the U.S. Supreme Court has twice considered cases about judicial campaign activity and come down in favor of similar restrictions.  In Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, the Court upheld a Florida rule prohibiting candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds.  In 2009, in Caperton v. Massey, the Supreme Court recognized that spending in judicial campaigns could create an untenable appearance of bias, requiring a judge to recuse himself.

The brief filed by the legal and judicial organizations also emphasized that Arizona’s rules must be understood as part of a larger regulatory and policy framework that, as a whole, ensures an independent, fair and impartial judiciary.

The other amici groups included the Arizona Judges’ Association, Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.  Richard F. Ziegler and Justin O. Spiegel of Jenner & Block LLP are serving as attorneys for amici curiae.

To read the brief, click here.