388 F.3d 224 – FAMILY TRUST FOUNDATION OF KY. INC. VS. KY. JUDICIAL CONDUCT COMMISSION
536 U.S. 765 – REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA ET AL V. WHITE CHAIRPERSON, MINNESOTA BOARD OF JUDICIAL STANDARDS, ET.
|388 F.3d 224
FAMILY TRUST FOUNDATION OF KENTUCKY, INC., et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
KENTUCKY JUDICIAL CONDUCT COMMISSION, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.
October 27, 2004.
James Bopp, Jr., Thomas J. Marzen, Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, Terre Haute, IN, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.
Leroy A. Gilbert, Jr., Corbin, KY, George F. Rabe, Lexington, KY, Michael W. Hawkins, Dinsmore & Shohl, Cincinnati, OH, for Defendants-Appellants.
Before: MARTIN and BATCHELDER, Circuit Judges; JORDAN, District Judge.*
BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.
Appellants, which include members of the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission (“KJCC”), the Kentucky Inquiry Commission, and various counsel for the Kentucky Bar Association sued in their official capacities,1 filed an Emergency Motion to Stay the district court’s October 19, 2004, order enjoining enforcement of Rule of the Supreme Court of Kentucky (SCR) 4.300, Canon 5B(1)(c). Because we find that the Appellants have failed to meet the
standard for a stay, the motion is hereby DENIED.
At issue in this case is the district court’s injunction prohibiting enforcement of SCR 4.300, which reads in relevant part:
A judge or a candidate for election to judicial office … shall not make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office; shall not make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court; and shall not misrepresent any candidate’s identity, qualifications, present position, or other facts.
SCR 4.300, Canon 5B(1)(c). In considering whether to grant a stay pending appeal, this court applies the traditional four-part injunctive-relief test, which asks:
(1) whether the defendant has a strong or substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether the defendant will suffer irreparable harm if the district court proceedings are not stayed; (3) whether staying the district court proceedings will substantially injure other interested parties; and (4) where the public interest lies.
Baker v. Adams County/Ohio Valley Sch. Bd., 310 F.3d 927, 928 (6th Cir.2002) (citing Grutter v. Bollinger, 247 F.3d 631, 632 (6th Cir.2001) (order); Michigan Coalition of Radioactive Material Users, Inc. v. Griepentrog, 945 F.2d 150, 153 (6th Cir. 1991)). In applying this test, we balance the factors. The Appellant must demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits to a degree inversely proportional to the amount of irreparable harm that will be suffered if a stay does not issue. “[I]n order to justify a stay of the district court’s ruling, the [Appellant] must demonstrate at least serious questions going to the merits and irreparable harm that decidedly outweighs the harm that will be inflicted on others if a stay is granted.” Id. (citing In re DeLorean Motor Co., 755 F.2d 1223, 1229 (6th Cir.1985)). We conclude that the Appellants have failed to meet their burden on any of the four elements.
First, the Appellants have not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. The district court noted that the “promises and commit” clause in Canon 5B(1)(c) has been used by the State to reach content covered by the “announce clause” struck down in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765, 122 S.Ct. 2528, 153 L.Ed.2d 694 (2002)-that is, the State has used Canon 5B(1)(c) to prohibit a candidate from expressing “views on any specific nonfanciful legal question within the province of the court for which he is running ….” Id. at 773, 122 S.Ct. 2528; see, e.g., Deters v. Judicial Retirement and Removal Comm’n, 873 S.W.2d 200 (Ky.1994) (upholding public censure against judicial candidate for running an advertisement stating that he was a “Pro-Life” candidate in violation of Canon 5B(1)(c)).
Although the Supreme Court’s decision in White applied only to an announce clause and did not involve a promises and commit clause, the district court found that the difference in this case is simply one of a label: the State has enforced the promises and commit clause as a de facto announce clause, and therefore the State is unlikely to succeed in light of the binding precedent in White.
While the Appellants argue that Deters was decided before White and therefore should not be relied upon as a statement of Kentucky law, their statements to judicial candidates suggest a very different enforcement posture. For example, the August
5, 2002, Memorandum of the KJCC states that “Canon 5(B)(1)(c) of the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct is not affected by the ruling on the Minnesota canon, and remains effective as promulgated by the Supreme Court of Kentucky.”
And tellingly, a letter sent by Chief Justice Lambert to judicial candidates concerning the requirements of SCR 4.300 specifically referenced Deters as a case with which candidates should familiarize themselves. Because these letters and Kentucky case law support the district court’s finding that Kentucky views Canon 5B(1)(c) as the functional equivalent of an announce clause, the Appellants have failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.
Likewise, the Appellants have failed to demonstrate irreparable harm. Indeed, Appellants’ counsel failed accurately to address the question in their briefs, focusing on whether Plaintiffs-Appellees would be irreparably harmed in the absence of the injunction, instead of answering the question before this court: whether Appellants would be irreparably harmed if this court fails to stay the injunction. Furthermore, Appellants have failed to substantiate their claim that staying the district court proceedings will not substantially injure other interested parties.
Finally, Appellants argue that the public interest is not advanced by the injunction, which they claim “completely eviscerates Kentucky’s established mechanisms for maintaining the impartiality and independence of the Courts, both in fact and appearance.” However, the district court found that other, narrowly tailored mechanisms existed under Kentucky law to preserve the impartiality of the judiciary-namely Kentucky’s judicial recusal statute. See K.R.S. § 26A.015(2)(e) and Canon 3E(1). Additionally, the Appellants fail to address the strong public interest in the electorate’s receiving candidate statements, an interest that previously has been recognized by the Kentucky Supreme Court:
We believe a well informed electorate is essential to the democratic election process guaranteed by the Kentucky Constitution. The right of the voting public to hear what a candidate has to say is a compelling one.
We further believe candidates for judicial office can announce their views on legal and political issues without jeopardizing the integrity and independence of the legal system or undermining the impartiality of the judiciary.
J.C.J.D. v. R.J.C.R., 803 S.W.2d 953, 956 (Ky.1991)(emphasis added)(striking down Kentucky’s previous announce clause). Appellants have therefore failed to demonstrate that the public interest lies with staying the injunction.
For the foregoing reasons, Appellants’ Motion for Emergency Stay is hereby DENIED.
BOYCE F. MARTIN, JR., Circuit Judge, dissenting.
In my view, the preliminary injunction issued by the district court should be stayed until the case is fully briefed and argued on expedited appeal before a panel of this Court. The defendants’ challenge to the district court’s injunction is more than sufficient to support a stay pending such appeal. Given the nature and timing of the injunction, allowing it to remain in effect would be significantly more injurious than issuing a stay. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.
536 U.S. 765
REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA ET AL.
WHITE, CHAIRPERSON, MINNESOTA BOARD OF JUDICIAL STANDARDS, ET AL.
Supreme Court of the United States.
Argued March 26, 2002.
Decided June 27, 2002.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
The Minnesota Supreme Court has adopted a canon of judicial conduct that prohibits a “candidate for a judicial office” from “announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues” (hereinafter announce clause). While running for associate justice of that court, petitioner Gregory Wersal (and others) filed this suit seeking a declaration that the announce clause violates the First Amendment and an injunction against its enforcement. The District Court granted respondent officials summary judgment, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.
Held: The announce clause violates the First Amendment. Pp. 770-788.
(a) The record demonstrates that the announce clause prohibits a judicial candidate from stating his views on any specific nonfanciful legal question within the province of the court for which he is running, except in the context of discussing past decisions — and in the latter context as well, if he expresses the view that he is not bound by stare decisis. Pp. 770-774.
(b) The announce clause both prohibits speech based on its content and burdens a category of speech that is at the core of First Amendment freedoms — speech about the qualifications of candidates for public office. The Eighth Circuit concluded, and the parties do not dispute, that the proper test to be applied to determine the constitutionality of such a restriction is strict scrutiny, under which respondents have the burden to prove that the clause is (1) narrowly tailored, to serve (2) a compelling state interest. E. g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U. S. 214, 222. That court found that respondents had established two interests as sufficiently compelling to justify the announce clause: preserving the state judiciary’s impartiality and preserving the appearance of that impartiality. Pp. 774-775.
(c) Under any definition of “impartiality,” the announce clause fails strict scrutiny. First, it is plain that the clause is not narrowly tailored to serve impartiality (or its appearance) in the traditional sense of the word, i. e., as a lack of bias for or against either party to the proceeding. Indeed, the clause is barely tailored to serve that interest at all, inasmuch as it does not restrict speech for or against particular parties,
but rather speech for or against particular issues. Second, although “impartiality” in the sense of a lack of preconception in favor of or against a particular legal view may well be an interest served by the announce clause, pursuing this objective is not a compelling state interest, since it is virtually impossible, and hardly desirable, to find a judge who does not have preconceptions about the law, see Laird v. Tatum, 409 U. S. 824, 835. Third, the Court need not decide whether achieving “impartiality” (or its appearance) in the sense of openmindedness is a compelling state interest because, as a means of pursuing this interest, the announce clause is so woefully underinclusive that the Court does not believe it was adopted for that purpose. See, e. g., City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. 43, 52-53. Respondents have not carried the burden imposed by strict scrutiny of establishing that statements made during an election campaign are uniquely destructive of openmindedness. See, e. g., Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U. S. 829, 841. Pp. 775-784.
(d) A universal and long-established tradition of prohibiting certain conduct creates a strong presumption that the prohibition is constitutional, see McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U. S. 334, 375-377. However, the practice of prohibiting speech by judicial candidates is neither ancient nor universal. The Court knows of no such prohibitions throughout the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century, and they are still not universally adopted. This does not compare well with the traditions deemed worthy of attention in, e. g., Burson v. Freeman, 504 U. S. 191, 205-206. Pp. 785-787.
(e) There is an obvious tension between Minnesota’s Constitution, which requires judicial elections, and the announce clause, which places most subjects of interest to the voters off limits. The First Amendment does not permit Minnesota to leave the principle of elections in place while preventing candidates from discussing what the elections are about. See, e. g., Renne v. Geary, 501 U. S. 312, 349. Pp. 787-788.
247 F. 3d 854, reversed and remanded.
SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O’CONNOR, KENNEDY, and THOMAS, JJ., joined. O’CONNOR, J., post, p. 788, and KENNEDY, J., post, p. 792, filed concurring opinions. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 797. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, and BREYER, JJ., joined, post, p. 803.
James Bopp, Jr., argued the cause for petitioners Republican Party of Minnesota et al. With him on the briefs were
Thomas J. Marzen, Richard E. Coleson, and Ronald D. Rotunda. William F. Mohrman and Erick G. Kaardal filed briefs for petitioners Wersal et al.
Alan I. Gilbert, Chief Deputy and Solicitor General of Minnesota, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Kristine L. Eiden, Deputy Attorney General, and Julie Ralston Aoki, Mark B. Levinger, and Thomas C. Vasaly, Assistant Attorneys General.*
JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question presented in this case is whether the First Amendment permits the Minnesota Supreme Court to prohibit candidates for judicial election in that State from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues.
Since Minnesota’s admission to the Union in 1858, the State’s Constitution has provided for the selection of all state judges by popular election. Minn. Const., Art. VI, § 7. Since 1912, those elections have been nonpartisan. Act of June 19, ch. 2, 1912 Minn. Laws Special Sess., pp. 4-6. Since 1974, they have been subject to a legal restriction which states that a “candidate for a judicial office, including an incumbent judge,” shall not “announce his or her views on disputed legal or political issues.” Minn. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5(A)(3)(d)(i) (2000). This prohibition, promulgated by the Minnesota Supreme Court and based on Canon 7(B) of the 1972 American Bar Association (ABA) Model Code of Judicial Conduct, is known as the “announce clause.” Incumbent judges who violate it are subject to discipline, including removal, censure, civil penalties, and suspension without pay. Minn. Rules of Board on Judicial Standards 4(a)(6), 11(d) (2002). Lawyers who run for judicial office also must comply with the announce clause. Minn. Rule of Professional Conduct 8.2(b) (2002) (“A lawyer who is a candidate for judicial office shall comply with the applicable provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct”). Those who violate it are subject to, inter alia, disbarment, suspension, and probation. Rule 8.4(a); Minn. Rules on Lawyers Professional Responsibility 8-14, 15(a) (2002).
In 1996, one of the petitioners, Gregory Wersal, ran for associate justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. In the course of the campaign, he distributed literature criticizing several Minnesota Supreme Court decisions on issues such as crime, welfare, and abortion. A complaint against Wersal
challenging, among other things, the propriety of this literature was filed with the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility, the agency which, under the direction of the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board,1 investigates and prosecutes ethical violations of lawyer candidates for judicial office. The Lawyers Board dismissed the complaint; with regard to the charges that his campaign materials violated the announce clause, it expressed doubt whether the clause could constitutionally be enforced. Nonetheless, fearing that further ethical complaints would jeopardize his ability to practice law, Wersal withdrew from the election. In 1998, Wersal ran again for the same office. Early in that race, he sought an advisory opinion from the Lawyers Board with regard to whether it planned to enforce the announce clause. The Lawyers Board responded equivocally, stating that, although it had significant doubts about the constitutionality of the provision, it was unable to answer his question because he had not submitted a list of the announcements he wished to make.2
Shortly thereafter, Wersal filed this lawsuit in Federal District Court against respondents,3 seeking, inter alia, a
declaration that the announce clause violates the First Amendment and an injunction against its enforcement. Wersal alleged that he was forced to refrain from announcing his views on disputed issues during the 1998 campaign, to the point where he declined response to questions put to him by the press and public, out of concern that he might run afoul of the announce clause. Other plaintiffs in the suit, including the Minnesota Republican Party, alleged that, because the clause kept Wersal from announcing his views, they were unable to learn those views and support or oppose his candidacy accordingly. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the District Court found in favor of respondents, holding that the announce clause did not violate the First Amendment. 63 F. Supp. 2d 967 (Minn. 1999). Over a dissent by Judge Beam, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. Republican Party of Minn. v. Kelly, 247 F. 3d 854 (2001). We granted certiorari. 534 U. S. 1054 (2001).
Before considering the constitutionality of the announce clause, we must be clear about its meaning. Its text says that a candidate for judicial office shall not “announce his or her views on disputed legal or political issues.” Minn. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5(A)(3)(d)(i) (2002).
We know that “announc[ing] … views” on an issue covers much more than promising to decide an issue a particular way. The prohibition extends to the candidate’s mere statement of his current position, even if he does not bind himself to maintain that position after election. All the parties agree this is the case, because the Minnesota Code contains a so-called “pledges or promises” clause, which separately prohibits judicial candidates from making “pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office,” ibid. — a prohibition that is not challenged here and on which we express no view.
There are, however, some limitations that the Minnesota Supreme Court has placed upon the scope of the announce clause that are not (to put it politely) immediately apparent from its text. The statements that formed the basis of the complaint against Wersal in 1996 included criticism of past decisions of the Minnesota Supreme Court. One piece of campaign literature stated that “[t]he Minnesota Supreme Court has issued decisions which are marked by their disregard for the Legislature and a lack of common sense.” App. 37. It went on to criticize a decision excluding from evidence confessions by criminal defendants that were not tape-recorded, asking “[s]hould we conclude that because the Supreme Court does not trust police, it allows confessed criminals to go free?” Ibid. It criticized a decision striking down a state law restricting welfare benefits, asserting that “[i]t’s the Legislature which should set our spending policies.” Ibid. And it criticized a decision requiring public financing of abortions for poor women as “unprecedented” and a “pro-abortion stance.” Id., at 38. Although one would think that all of these statements touched on disputed legal or political issues, they did not (or at least do not now) fall within the scope of the announce clause. The Judicial Board issued an opinion stating that judicial candidates may criticize past decisions, and the Lawyers Board refused to discipline Wersal for the foregoing statements because, in part, it thought they did not violate the announce clause. The Eighth Circuit relied on the Judicial Board’s opinion in upholding the announce clause, 247 F. 3d, at 882, and the Minnesota Supreme Court recently embraced the Eighth Circuit’s interpretation, In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 639 N. W. 2d 55 (2002).
There are yet further limitations upon the apparent plain meaning of the announce clause: In light of the constitutional concerns, the District Court construed the clause to reach only disputed issues that are likely to come before the candidate if he is elected judge. 63 F. Supp. 2d, at 986. The
Eighth Circuit accepted this limiting interpretation by the District Court, and in addition construed the clause to allow general discussions of case law and judicial philosophy. 247 F. 3d, at 881-882. The Supreme Court of Minnesota adopted these interpretations as well when it ordered enforcement of the announce clause in accordance with the Eighth Circuit’s opinion. In re Code of Judicial Conduct, supra.
It seems to us, however, that — like the text of the announce clause itself — these limitations upon the text of the announce clause are not all that they appear to be. First, respondents acknowledged at oral argument that statements critical of past judicial decisions are not permissible if the candidate also states that he is against stare decisis. Tr. of Oral Arg. 33-34.4 Thus, candidates must choose between stating their views critical of past decisions and stating their views in opposition to stare decisis. Or, to look at it more concretely, they may state their view that prior decisions were erroneous only if they do not assert that they, if elected, have any power to eliminate erroneous decisions. Second, limiting the scope of the clause to issues likely to come before a court is not much of a limitation at all. One would hardly expect the “disputed legal or political issues” raised in the course of a state judicial election to include such matters as whether the Federal Government should end the embargo of Cuba. Quite obviously, they will be those legal or political disputes that are the proper (or by past decisions have been made the improper) business of the state courts. And within that relevant category, “[t]here is almost no legal or political issue that is unlikely to come before a judge of an American court, state or federal, of general jurisdiction.”
Buckley v. Illinois Judicial Inquiry Bd., 997 F. 2d 224, 229 (CA7 1993). Third, construing the clause to allow “general” discussions of case law and judicial philosophy turns out to be of little help in an election campaign. At oral argument, respondents gave, as an example of this exception, that a candidate is free to assert that he is a “`strict constructionist.’” Tr. of Oral Arg. 29. But that, like most other philosophical generalities, has little meaningful content for the electorate unless it is exemplified by application to a particular issue of construction likely to come before a court — for example, whether a particular statute runs afoul of any provision of the Constitution. Respondents conceded that the announce clause would prohibit the candidate from exemplifying his philosophy in this fashion. Id., at 43. Without such application to real-life issues, all candidates can claim to be “strict constructionists” with equal (and unhelpful) plausibility.
In any event, it is clear that the announce clause prohibits a judicial candidate from stating his views on any specific nonfanciful legal question within the province of the court for which he is running, except in the context of discussing past decisions — and in the latter context as well, if he expresses the view that he is not bound by stare decisis.5
Respondents contend that this still leaves plenty of topics for discussion on the campaign trail. These include a candidate’s “character,” “education,” “work habits,” and “how [he] would handle administrative duties if elected.” Brief for Respondents 35-36. Indeed, the Judicial Board has printed a list of preapproved questions which judicial candidates are allowed to answer. These include how the candidate feels about cameras in the courtroom, how he would go about reducing the caseload, how the costs of judicial administration can be reduced, and how he proposes to ensure that minorities and women are treated more fairly by the court system. Minnesota State Bar Association Judicial Elections Task Force Report & Recommendations, App. C (June 19, 1997), reprinted at App. 97-103. Whether this list of preapproved subjects, and other topics not prohibited by the announce clause, adequately fulfill the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech is the question to which we now turn.
As the Court of Appeals recognized, the announce clause both prohibits speech on the basis of its content and burdens a category of speech that is “at the core of our First Amendment freedoms” — speech about the qualifications of candidates for public office. 247 F. 3d, at 861, 863. The Court of Appeals concluded that the proper test to be applied to determine the constitutionality of such a restriction is what our cases have called strict scrutiny, id., at 864; the parties do not dispute that this is correct. Under the strict-scrutiny test, respondents have the burden to prove that the announce
clause is (1) narrowly tailored, to serve (2) a compelling state interest. E. g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U. S. 214, 222 (1989). In order for respondents to show that the announce clause is narrowly tailored, they must demonstrate that it does not “unnecessarily circumscrib[e] protected expression.” Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U. S. 45, 54 (1982).
The Court of Appeals concluded that respondents had established two interests as sufficiently compelling to justify the announce clause: preserving the impartiality of the state judiciary and preserving the appearance of the impartiality of the state judiciary. 247 F. 3d, at 867. Respondents reassert these two interests before us, arguing that the first is compelling because it protects the due process rights of litigants, and that the second is compelling because it preserves public confidence in the judiciary.6 Respondents are rather vague, however, about what they mean by “impartiality.” Indeed, although the term is used throughout the Eighth Circuit’s opinion, the briefs, the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct, and the ABA Codes of Judicial Conduct, none of these sources bothers to define it. Clarity on this point is essential before we can decide whether impartiality is indeed a compelling state interest, and, if so, whether the announce clause is narrowly tailored to achieve it.
One meaning of “impartiality” in the judicial context — and of course its root meaning — is the lack of bias for or against either party to the proceeding. Impartiality in this sense
assures equal application of the law. That is, it guarantees a party that the judge who hears his case will apply the law to him in the same way he applies it to any other party. This is the traditional sense in which the term is used. See Webster’s New International Dictionary 1247 (2d ed. 1950) (defining “impartial” as “[n]ot partial; esp., not favoring one more than another; treating all alike; unbiased; equitable; fair; just”). It is also the sense in which it is used in the cases cited by respondents and amici for the proposition that an impartial judge is essential to due process. Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U. S. 510, 523, 531-534 (1927) (judge violated due process by sitting in a case in which it would be in his financial interest to find against one of the parties); Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U. S. 813, 822-825 (1986) (same); Ward v. Monroeville, 409 U. S. 57, 58-62 (1972) (same); Johnson v. Mississippi, 403 U. S. 212, 215-216 (1971) (per curiam) (judge violated due process by sitting in a case in which one of the parties was a previously successful litigant against him); Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U. S. 899, 905 (1997) (would violate due process if a judge was disposed to rule against defendants who did not bribe him in order to cover up the fact that he regularly ruled in favor of defendants who did bribe him); In re Murchison, 349 U. S. 133, 137-139 (1955) (judge violated due process by sitting in the criminal trial of defendant whom he had indicted).
We think it plain that the announce clause is not narrowly tailored to serve impartiality (or the appearance of impartiality) in this sense. Indeed, the clause is barely tailored to serve that interest at all, inasmuch as it does not restrict speech for or against particular parties, but rather speech for or against particular issues. To be sure, when a case arises that turns on a legal issue on which the judge (as a candidate) had taken a particular stand, the party taking the opposite stand is likely to lose. But not because of any bias against that party, or favoritism toward the other party.
Any party taking that position is just as likely to lose. The judge is applying the law (as he sees it) evenhandedly.7
It is perhaps possible to use the term “impartiality” in the judicial context (though this is certainly not a common usage) to mean lack of preconception in favor of or against a particular legal view. This sort of impartiality would be concerned, not with guaranteeing litigants equal application of the law, but rather with guaranteeing them an equal chance to persuade the court on the legal points in their case. Impartiality in this sense may well be an interest served by the announce clause, but it is not a compelling state interest, as strict scrutiny requires. A judge’s lack of predisposition regarding the relevant legal issues in a case has never been thought a necessary component of equal justice, and with good reason. For one thing, it is virtually impossible to find a judge who does not have preconceptions about the law. As then-JUSTICE REHNQUIST observed of our own Court: “Since most Justices come to this bench no earlier than their middle years, it would be unusual if they had not by that time formulated at least some tentative notions that would influence them in their interpretation of the sweeping clauses of the Constitution and their interaction with one another. It would be not merely unusual, but extraordinary, if they had
not at least given opinions as to constitutional issues in their previous legal careers.” Laird v. Tatum, 409 U. S. 824, 835 (1972) (memorandum opinion). Indeed, even if it were possible to select judges who did not have preconceived views on legal issues, it would hardly be desirable to do so. “Proof that a Justice’s mind at the time he joined the Court was a complete tabula rasa in the area of constitutional adjudication would be evidence of lack of qualification, not lack of bias.” Ibid. The Minnesota Constitution positively forbids the selection to courts of general jurisdiction of judges who are impartial in the sense of having no views on the law. Minn. Const., Art. VI, § 5 (“Judges of the supreme court, the court of appeals and the district court shall be learned in the law”). And since avoiding judicial preconceptions on legal issues is neither possible nor desirable, pretending otherwise by attempting to preserve the “appearance” of that type of impartiality can hardly be a compelling state interest either.
A third possible meaning of “impartiality” (again not a common one) might be described as openmindedness. This quality in a judge demands, not that he have no preconceptions on legal issues, but that he be willing to consider views that oppose his preconceptions, and remain open to persuasion, when the issues arise in a pending case. This sort of impartiality seeks to guarantee each litigant, not an equal chance to win the legal points in the case, but at least some chance of doing so. It may well be that impartiality in this sense, and the appearance of it, are desirable in the judiciary, but we need not pursue that inquiry, since we do not believe the Minnesota Supreme Court adopted the announce clause for that purpose.
Respondents argue that the announce clause serves the interest in openmindedness, or at least in the appearance of openmindedness, because it relieves a judge from pressure to rule a certain way in order to maintain consistency with
statements the judge has previously made. The problem is, however, that statements in election campaigns are such an infinitesimal portion of the public commitments to legal positions that judges (or judges-to-be) undertake, that this object of the prohibition is implausible. Before they arrive on the bench (whether by election or otherwise) judges have often committed themselves on legal issues that they must later rule upon. See, e. g., Laird, supra, at 831-833 (describing Justice Black’s participation in several cases construing and deciding the constitutionality of the Fair Labor Standards Act, even though as a Senator he had been one of its principal authors; and Chief Justice Hughes’s authorship of the opinion overruling Adkins v. Children’s Hospital of D. C., 261 U. S. 525 (1923), a case he had criticized in a book written before his appointment to the Court). More common still is a judge’s confronting a legal issue on which he has expressed an opinion while on the bench. Most frequently, of course, that prior expression will have occurred in ruling on an earlier case. But judges often state their views on disputed legal issues outside the context of adjudication — in classes that they conduct, and in books and speeches. Like the ABA Codes of Judicial Conduct, the Minnesota Code not only permits but encourages this. See Minn. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4(B) (2002) (“A judge may write, lecture, teach, speak and participate in other extra-judicial activities concerning the law …”); Minn. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4(B), Comment. (2002) (“To the extent that time permits, a judge is encouraged to do so …”). That is quite incompatible with the notion that the need for openmindedness (or for the appearance of openmindedness) lies behind the prohibition at issue here.
The short of the matter is this: In Minnesota, a candidate for judicial office may not say “I think it is constitutional for the legislature to prohibit same-sex marriages.” He may say the very same thing, however, up until the very day before he declares himself a candidate, and may say it repeatedly
(until litigation is pending) after he is elected. As a means of pursuing the objective of openmindedness that respondents now articulate, the announce clause is so woefully underinclusive as to render belief in that purpose a challenge to the credulous. See City of Ladue v. Gilleo, 512 U. S. 43, 52-53 (1994) (noting that underinclusiveness “diminish[es] the credibility of the government’s rationale for restricting speech”); Florida Star v. B. J. F., 491 U. S. 524, 541-542 (1989) (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment) (“[A] law cannot be regarded as protecting an interest of the highest order, and thus as justifying a restriction upon truthful speech, when it leaves appreciable damage to that supposedly vital interest unprohibited” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).
JUSTICE STEVENS asserts that statements made in an election campaign pose a special threat to openmindedness because the candidate, when elected judge, will have a particular reluctance to contradict them. Post, at 801. That might be plausible, perhaps, with regard to campaign promises. A candidate who says “If elected, I will vote to uphold the legislature’s power to prohibit same-sex marriages” will positively be breaking his word if he does not do so (although one would be naive not to recognize that campaign promises are — by long democratic tradition — the least binding form of human commitment). But, as noted earlier, the Minnesota Supreme Court has adopted a separate prohibition on campaign “pledges or promises,” which is not challenged here. The proposition that judges feel significantly greater compulsion, or appear to feel significantly greater compulsion, to maintain consistency with nonpromissory statements made during a judicial campaign than with such statements made before or after the campaign is not self-evidently true. It seems to us quite likely, in fact, that in many cases the opposite is true. We doubt, for example, that a mere statement of position enunciated during the pendency of an election will be regarded by a judge as more binding — or as more likely
to subject him to popular disfavor if reconsidered — than a carefully considered holding that the judge set forth in an earlier opinion denying some individual’s claim to justice. In any event, it suffices to say that respondents have not carried the burden imposed by our strict-scrutiny test to establish this proposition (that campaign statements are uniquely destructive of openmindedness) on which the validity of the announce clause rests. See, e. g., Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U. S. 829, 841 (1978) (rejecting speech restriction subject to strict scrutiny where the State “offered little more than assertion and conjecture to support its claim that without criminal sanctions the objectives of the statutory scheme would be seriously undermined”); United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U. S. 803, 816-825 (2000) (same).8
Moreover, the notion that the special context of electioneering justifies an abridgment of the right to speak out on disputed issues sets our First Amendment jurisprudence on its head. “[D]ebate on the qualifications of candidates” is “at the core of our electoral process and of the First Amendment freedoms,” not at the edges. Eu, 489 U. S., at 222-223 (internal quotation marks omitted). “The role that elected officials play in our society makes it all the more imperative that they be allowed freely to express themselves on matters
of current public importance.” Wood v. Georgia, 370 U. S. 375, 395 (1962). “It is simply not the function of government to select which issues are worth discussing or debating in the course of a political campaign.” Brown, 456 U. S., at 60 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). We have never allowed the government to prohibit candidates from communicating relevant information to voters during an election.
JUSTICE GINSBURG would do so — and much of her dissent confirms rather than refutes our conclusion that the purpose behind the announce clause is not openmindedness in the judiciary, but the undermining of judicial elections. She contends that the announce clause must be constitutional because due process would be denied if an elected judge sat in a case involving an issue on which he had previously announced his view. Post, at 816, 819. She reaches this conclusion because, she says, such a judge would have a “direct, personal, substantial, and pecuniary interest” in ruling consistently with his previously announced view, in order to reduce the risk that he will be “voted off the bench and thereby lose [his] salary and emoluments,” post, at 816 (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). But elected judges — regardless of whether they have announced any views beforehand — always face the pressure of an electorate who might disagree with their rulings and therefore vote them off the bench. Surely the judge who frees Timothy McVeigh places his job much more at risk than the judge who (horror of horrors!) reconsiders his previously announced view on a disputed legal issue. So if, as JUSTICE GINSBURG claims, it violates due process for a judge to sit in a case in which ruling one way rather than another increases his prospects for reelection, then — quite simply — the practice of electing judges is itself a violation of due process. It is not difficult to understand how one with these views would approve the election-nullifying effect of the announce
clause.9 They are not, however, the views reflected in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which has coexisted with the election of judges ever since it was adopted, see infra, at 785-786.
JUSTICE GINSBURG devotes the rest of her dissent to attacking arguments we do not make. For example, despite the number of pages she dedicates to disproving this proposition, post, at 805-809, we neither assert nor imply that the First Amendment requires campaigns for judicial office to sound the same as those for legislative office.10 What we do assert, and what JUSTICE GINSBURG ignores, is that, even if the First Amendment allows greater regulation of judicial election campaigns than legislative election campaigns, the announce clause still fails strict scrutiny because it is woefully underinclusive, prohibiting announcements by judges (and would-be judges) only at certain times and in certain forms. We rely on the cases involving speech during elections, supra, at 781-782, only to make the obvious point that this underinclusiveness cannot be explained by resort to the notion that the First Amendment provides less protection during an election campaign than at other times.11
But in any case, JUSTICE GINSBURG greatly exaggerates the difference between judicial and legislative elections. She asserts that “the rationale underlying unconstrained speech in elections for political office — that representative government depends on the public’s ability to choose agents who will act at its behest — does not carry over to campaigns for the bench.” Post, at 806. This complete separation of the judiciary from the enterprise of “representative government” might have some truth in those countries where judges neither make law themselves nor set aside the laws enacted by the legislature. It is not a true picture of the American system. Not only do state-court judges possess the power to “make” common law, but they have the immense power to shape the States’ constitutions as well. See, e. g., Baker v. State, 170 Vt. 194, 744 A. 2d 864 (1999). Which is precisely why the election of state judges became popular.12
To sustain the announce clause, the Eighth Circuit relied heavily on the fact that a pervasive practice of prohibiting judicial candidates from discussing disputed legal and political issues developed during the last half of the 20th century. 247 F. 3d, at 879-880. It is true that a “universal and long-established” tradition of prohibiting certain conduct creates “a strong presumption” that the prohibition is constitutional: “Principles of liberty fundamental enough to have been embodied within constitutional guarantees are not readily erased from the Nation’s consciousness.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U. S. 334, 375-377 (1995) (SCALIA, J., dissenting). The practice of prohibiting speech by judicial candidates on disputed issues, however, is neither long nor universal.
At the time of the founding, only Vermont (before it became a State) selected any of its judges by election. Starting with Georgia in 1812, States began to provide for judicial election, a development rapidly accelerated by Jacksonian democracy. By the time of the Civil War, the great majority of States elected their judges. E. Haynes, Selection and Tenure of Judges 99-135 (1944); Berkson, Judicial Selection in the United States: A Special Report, 64 Judicature 176 (1980). We know of no restrictions upon statements that could be made by judicial candidates (including judges) throughout the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th century. Indeed, judicial elections were generally partisan during this period, the movement toward nonpartisan judicial elections not even beginning until the 1870′s. Id., at 176-177;
M. Comisky & P. Patterson, The Judiciary — Selection, Compensation, Ethics, and Discipline 4, 7 (1987). Thus, not only were judicial candidates (including judges) discussing disputed legal and political issues on the campaign trail, but they were touting party affiliations and angling for party nominations all the while.
The first code regulating judicial conduct was adopted by the ABA in 1924. 48 ABA Reports 74 (1923) (report of Chief Justice Taft); P. McFadden, Electing Justice: The Law and Ethics of Judicial Election Campaigns 86 (1990). It contained a provision akin to the announce clause: “A candidate for judicial position … should not announce in advance his conclusions of law on disputed issues to secure class support ….” ABA Canon of Judicial Ethics 30 (1924). The States were slow to adopt the canons, however. “By the end of World War II, the canons … were binding by the bar associations or supreme courts of only eleven states.” J. MacKenzie, The Appearance of Justice 191 (1974). Even today, although a majority of States have adopted either the announce clause or its 1990 ABA successor, adoption is not unanimous. Of the 31 States that select some or all of their appellate and general-jurisdiction judges by election, see American Judicature Society, Judicial Selection in the States: Appellate and General Jurisdiction Courts (Apr. 2002), 4 have adopted no candidate-speech restriction comparable to the announce clause,13 and 1 prohibits only the discussion of “pending litigation.”14 This practice, relatively new to judicial elections and still not universally adopted, does not compare well with the traditions deemed worthy of our attention in prior cases. E. g., Burson v. Freeman, 504 U. S. 191, 205-206 (1992) (crediting tradition of prohibiting speech around
polling places that began with the very adoption of the secret ballot in the late 19th century, and in which every State participated); id., at 214-216 (SCALIA, J., concurring in judgment) (same); McIntyre, supra, at 375-377 (SCALIA, J., dissenting) (crediting tradition of prohibiting anonymous election literature, which again began in 1890 and was universally adopted).
* * *
There is an obvious tension between the article of Minnesota’s popularly approved Constitution which provides that judges shall be elected, and the Minnesota Supreme Court’s announce clause which places most subjects of interest to the voters off limits. (The candidate-speech restrictions of all the other States that have them are also the product of judicial fiat.15) The disparity is perhaps unsurprising, since the ABA, which originated the announce clause, has long been an opponent of judicial elections. See ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5(C)(2), Comment (2000) (“[M]erit selection of judges is a preferable manner in which to select the judiciary”); An Independent Judiciary: Report of the ABA Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence 96 (1997) (“The American Bar Association strongly endorses the merit selection of judges, as opposed to their election …. Five times between August 1972 and August 1984 the House of Delegates has approved recommendations stating the preference for merit selection and encouraging bar associations in jurisdictions where judges are elected … to work for the adoption of merit selection and retention”). That opposition may be well taken (it certainly had the support
of the Founders of the Federal Government), but the First Amendment does not permit it to achieve its goal by leaving the principle of elections in place while preventing candidates from discussing what the elections are about. “[T]he greater power to dispense with elections altogether does not include the lesser power to conduct elections under conditions of state-imposed voter ignorance. If the State chooses to tap the energy and the legitimizing power of the democratic process, it must accord the participants in that process … the First Amendment rights that attach to their roles.” Renne v. Geary, 501 U. S. 312, 349 (1991) (Marshall, J., dissenting); accord, Meyer v. Grant, 486 U. S. 414, 424-425 (1988) (rejecting argument that the greater power to end voter initiatives includes the lesser power to prohibit paid petition-circulators).
The Minnesota Supreme Court’s canon of judicial conduct prohibiting candidates for judicial election from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues violates the First Amendment. Accordingly, we reverse the grant of summary judgment to respondents and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
* Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Center for Law and Justice by Jay Alan Sekulow, James H. Henderson, Sr., Colby M. May, and Walter M. Weber; for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by David B. Isbell, David H. Remes, and Steven R. Shapiro; for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States by Jan Witold Baran and Stephen A. Bokat; for Minnesota State Representative Philip Krinkie et al. by Raymond C. Ortman, Jr.; for Public Citizen by Allison M. Zieve, David C. Vladeck, and Scott L. Nelson; and for State Supreme Court Justices by Erik S. Jaffe.
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the State of California et al. by Bill Lockyer, Attorney General of California, and Manuel M. Medeiros, State Solicitor, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon of Missouri, Mike McGrath of Montana, W. A. Drew Edmondson of Oklahoma, Hardy Myers of Oregon, John Cornyn of Texas, and Christine O. Gregoire of Washington; for the Ad hoc Committee of Former Justices and Friends Dedicated to an Independent Judiciary by S. Shawn Stephens and Andy Taylor; for the American Bar Association by Robert E. Hirshon, Reagan Wm. Simpson, and Warren S. Huang; for the Minnesota State Bar Association by Wayne D. Struble; for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law et al. by Scott Bales and Deborah Goldberg; for the Conference of Chief Justices by Roy A. Schotland, George T. Patton, Jr., Sarah Steele Riordan, and Robert F. Bauer; for the Missouri Bar by Joseph C. Blanton, Jr.; and for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts by Edmund B. Spaeth, Jr., and Brett G. Sweitzer.
Briefs of amici curiae were filed for the Idaho Conservation League et al. by John D. Echeverria; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by David W. Ogden, Jonathan J. Frankel, Neil M. Richards, and Lisa Kemler.
1. The Eighth Circuit did not parse out the separate functions of these two entities in the case at hand, referring to the two of them collectively as the “Lawyers Board.” We take the same approach.
2. Nor did Wersal have any success receiving answers from the Lawyers Board when he included “concrete examples,” post, at 799, n. 2 (STEVENS, J., dissenting), in his request for an advisory opinion on other subjects a month later:
”As you are well aware, there is pending litigation over the constitutionality of certain portions of Canon 5. You are a plaintiff in this action and you have sued, among others, me as Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility and Charles Lundberg as the Chair of the Board of Lawyers Professional Responsibility. Due to this pending litigation, I will not be answering your request for an advisory opinion at this time.” App. 153.
3. Respondents are officers of the Lawyers Board and of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards (Judicial Board), which enforces the ethical rules applicable to judges.
4. JUSTICE GINSBURG argues that we should ignore this concession at oral argument because it is inconsistent with the Eighth Circuit’s interpretation of the announce clause. Post, at 810 (dissenting opinion). As she appears to acknowledge, however, the Eighth Circuit was merely silent on this particular question. Ibid. Silence is hardly inconsistent with what respondents conceded at oral argument.
5. In 1990, in response to concerns that its 1972 Model Canon — which was the basis for Minnesota’s announce clause — violated the First Amendment, see L. Milord, The Development of the ABA Judicial Code 50 (1992), the ABA replaced that canon with a provision that prohibits a judicial candidate from making “statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.” ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5(A)(3)(d)(ii) (2000). At oral argument, respondents argued that the limiting constructions placed upon Minnesota’s announce clause by the Eighth Circuit, and adopted by the Minnesota Supreme Court, render the scope of the clause no broader than the ABA’s 1990 canon. Tr. of Oral Arg. 38. This argument is somewhat curious because, based on the same constitutional concerns that had motivated the ABA, the Minnesota Supreme Court was urged to replace the announce clause with the new ABA language, but, unlike other jurisdictions, declined. Final Report of the Advisory Committee to Review the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules of the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards 5-6 (June 29, 1994), reprinted at App. 367-368. The ABA, however, agrees with respondents’ position, Brief for ABA as Amicus Curiae 5. We do not know whether the announce clause (as interpreted by state authorities) and the 1990 ABA canon are one and the same. No aspect of our constitutional analysis turns on this question.
6. Although the Eighth Circuit also referred to the compelling interest in an “independent” judiciary, 247 F. 3d, at 864-868, both it and respondents appear to use that term, as applied to the issues involved in this case, as interchangeable with “impartial.” See id., at 864 (describing a judge’s independence as his “ability to apply the law neutrally”); Brief for Respondents 20, n. 4 (“[J]udicial impartiality is linked to judicial independence”).
7. JUSTICE STEVENS asserts that the announce clause “serves the State’s interest in maintaining both the appearance of this form of impartiality and its actuality.” Post, at 801. We do not disagree. Some of the speech prohibited by the announce clause may well exhibit a bias against parties — including JUSTICE STEVENS’ example of an election speech stressing the candidate’s unbroken record of affirming convictions for rape, ante, at 800-801. That is why we are careful to say that the announce clause is “barely tailored to serve that interest,” supra, at 776 (emphasis added). The question under our strict scrutiny test, however, is not whether the announce clause serves this interest at all, but whether it is narrowly tailored to serve this interest. It is not.
8. We do not agree with JUSTICE STEVENS’s broad assertion that “to the extent that [statements on legal issues] seek to enhance the popularity of the candidate by indicating how he would rule in specific cases if elected, they evidence a lack of fitness for office.” Post, at 798 (emphasis added). Of course all statements on real-world legal issues “indicate” how the speaker would rule “in specific cases.” And if making such statements (of honestly held views) with the hope of enhancing one’s chances with the electorate displayed a lack of fitness for office, so would similarly motivated honest statements of judicial candidates made with the hope of enhancing their chances of confirmation by the Senate, or indeed of appointment by the President. Since such statements are made, we think, in every confirmation hearing, JUSTICE STEVENS must contemplate a federal bench filled with the unfit.
9. JUSTICE GINSBURG argues that the announce clause is not election nullifying because Wersal criticized past decisions of the Minnesota Supreme Court in his campaign literature and the Lawyers Board decided not to discipline him for doing so. Post, at 811-812. As we have explained, however, had Wersal additionally stated during his campaign that he did not feel bound to follow those erroneous decisions, he would not have been so lucky. Supra, at 772-773. This predicament hardly reflects “the robust communication of ideas and views from judicial candidate to voter.” Post, at 812.
10. JUSTICE STEVENS devotes most of his dissent to this same argument that we do not make.
11. Nor do we assert that candidates for judicial office should be compelled to announce their views on disputed legal issues. Thus, JUSTICE GINSBURG’s repeated invocation of instances in which nominees to this Court declined to announce such views during Senate confirmation hearings is pointless. Post, at 807-808, n. 1, 818-819, n. 4. That the practice of voluntarily demurring does not establish the legitimacy of legal compulsion to demur is amply demonstrated by the unredacted text of the sentence she quotes in part, post, at 819, from Laird v. Tatum, 409 U. S. 824, 836, n. 5 (1972): “In terms of propriety, rather than disqualification, I would distinguish quite sharply between a public statement made prior to nomination for the bench, on the one hand, and a public statement made by a nominee to the bench.” (Emphasis added.)
12. Although JUSTICE STEVENS at times appears to agree with JUSTICE GINSBURG’s premise that the judiciary is completely separated from the enterprise of representative government, post, at 798 (“[E]very good judge is fully aware of the distinction between the law and a personal point of view”), he eventually appears to concede that the separation does not hold true for many judges who sit on courts of last resort, ante, at 799 (“If he is not a judge on the highest court in the State, he has an obligation to follow the precedent of that court, not his personal views or public opinion polls”); post, at 799, n. 2. Even if the policymaking capacity of judges were limited to courts of last resort, that would only prove that the announce clause fails strict scrutiny. “[I]f announcing one’s views in the context of a campaign for the State Supreme Court might be” protected speech, ibid., then — even if announcing one’s views in the context of a campaign for a lower court were not protected speech, ibid. — the announce clause would not be narrowly tailored, since it applies to high-and low-court candidates alike. In fact, however, the judges of inferior courts often “make law,” since the precedent of the highest court does not cover every situation, and not every case is reviewed. JUSTICE STEVENS has repeatedly expressed the view that a settled course of lower court opinions binds the highest court. See, e. g., Reves v. Ernst & Young, 494 U. S. 56, 74 (1990) (concurring opinion); McNally v. United States, 483 U. S. 350, 376-377 (1987) (dissenting opinion).
13. Idaho Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (2001); Mich. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (2002); N. C. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7 (2001); Ore. Code of Judicial Conduct, Rule 4-102 (2002). All of these States save Idaho have adopted the pledges or promises clause.
14. Ala. Canon of Judicial Ethics 7(B)(1)(c) (2002).
15. These restrictions are all contained in these States’ codes of judicial conduct, App. to Brief for ABA as Amicus Curiae. “In every state, the highest court promulgates the Code of Judicial Conduct, either by express constitutional provision, statutory authorization, broad constitutional grant, or inherent power.” In the Supreme Court of Texas: Per Curiam Opinion Concerning Amendments to Canons 5 and 6 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, 61 Tex. B. J. 64, 66 (1998) (collecting provisions).
JUSTICE O’CONNOR, concurring.
I join the opinion of the Court but write separately to express my concerns about judicial elections generally. Respondents claim that “[t]he Announce Clause is necessary … to protect the State’s compelling governmental interes[t] in an actual and perceived … impartial judiciary.” Brief for Respondents 8. I am concerned that, even aside from what judicial candidates may say while campaigning, the very practice of electing judges undermines this interest.
We of course want judges to be impartial, in the sense of being free from any personal stake in the outcome of the cases to which they are assigned. But if judges are subject to regular elections they are likely to feel that they have at
least some personal stake in the outcome of every publicized case. Elected judges cannot help being aware that if the public is not satisfied with the outcome of a particular case, it could hurt their reelection prospects. See Eule, Crocodiles in the Bathtub: State Courts, Voter Initiatives and the Threat of Electoral Reprisal, 65 U. Colo. L. Rev. 733, 739 (1994) (quoting former California Supreme Court Justice Otto Kaus’ statement that ignoring the political consequences of visible decisions is “`like ignoring a crocodile in your bathtub’”); Bright & Keenan, Judges and the Politics of Death: Deciding Between the Bill of Rights and the Next Election in Capital Cases, 75 B. U. L. Rev. 759, 793-794 (1995) (citing statistics indicating that judges who face elections are far more likely to override jury sentences of life without parole and impose the death penalty than are judges who do not run for election). Even if judges were able to suppress their awareness of the potential electoral consequences of their decisions and refrain from acting on it, the public’s confidence in the judiciary could be undermined simply by the possibility that judges would be unable to do so.
Moreover, contested elections generally entail campaigning. And campaigning for a judicial post today can require substantial funds. See Schotland, Financing Judicial Elections, 2000: Change and Challenge, 2001 L. Rev. Mich. State U. Detroit College of Law 849, 866 (reporting that in 2000, the 13 candidates in a partisan election for 5 seats on the Alabama Supreme Court spent an average of $1,092,076 on their campaigns); American Bar Association, Report and Recommendations of the Task Force on Lawyers’ Political Contributions, pt. 2 (July 1998) (reporting that in 1995, one candidate for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court raised $1,848,142 in campaign funds, and that in 1986, $2,700,000 was spent on the race for Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court). Unless the pool of judicial candidates is limited to those wealthy enough to independently fund their campaigns, a limitation unrelated to judicial skill, the cost of
campaigning requires judicial candidates to engage in fund-raising. Yet relying on campaign donations may leave judges feeling indebted to certain parties or interest groups. See Thomas, National L. J., Mar. 16, 1998, p. A8, col. 1 (reporting that a study by the public interest group Texans for Public Justice found that 40 percent of the $9,200,000 in contributions of $100 or more raised by seven of Texas’ nine Supreme Court justices for their 1994 and 1996 elections “came from parties and lawyers with cases before the court or contributors closely linked to these parties”). Even if judges were able to refrain from favoring donors, the mere possibility that judges’ decisions may be motivated by the desire to repay campaign contributors is likely to undermine the public’s confidence in the judiciary. See Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, Inc., and American Viewpoint, National Public Opinion Survey Frequency Questionnaire 4 (2001) (available at http://www.justiceatstake. org/files/JASNationalSurveyResults.pdf) (describing survey results indicating that 76 percent of registered voters believe that campaign contributions influence judicial decisions); id., at 7 (describing survey results indicating that two-thirds of registered voters believe individuals and groups who give money to judicial candidates often receive favorable treatment); Barnhizer, “On the Make”: Campaign Funding and the Corrupting of the American Judiciary, 50 Cath. U. L. Rev. 361, 379 (2001) (relating anecdotes of lawyers who felt that their contributions to judicial campaigns affected their chance of success in court).
Despite these significant problems, 39 States currently employ some form of judicial elections for their appellate courts, general jurisdiction trial courts, or both. American Judicature Society, Judicial Selection in the States: Appellate and General Jurisdiction Courts (Apr. 2002). Judicial elections were not always so prevalent. The first 29 States of the Union adopted methods for selecting judges that did not involve popular elections. See Croley, The Majoritarian Difficulty:
Elective Judiciaries and the Rule of Law, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 689, 716 (1995). As the Court explains, however, beginning with Georgia in 1812, States began adopting systems for judicial elections. See ante, at 785. From the 1830′s until the 1850′s, as part of the Jacksonian movement toward greater popular control of public office, this trend accelerated, see Goldschmidt, Merit Selection: Current Status, Procedures, and Issues, 49 U. Miami L. Rev. 1, 5 (1994), and by the Civil War, 22 of the 34 States elected their judges, ibid. By the beginning of the 20th century, however, elected judiciaries increasingly came to be viewed as incompetent and corrupt, and criticism of partisan judicial elections mounted. Croley, supra, at 723. In 1906, Roscoe Pound gave a speech to the American Bar Association in which he claimed that “compelling judges to become politicians, in many jurisdictions has almost destroyed the traditional respect for the bench.” The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice, 8 Baylor L. Rev. 1, 23 (1956) (reprinting Pound’s speech).
In response to such concerns, some States adopted a modified system of judicial selection that became known as the Missouri Plan (because Missouri was the first State to adopt it for most of its judicial posts). See Croley, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev., at 724. Under the Missouri Plan, judges are appointed by a high elected official, generally from a list of nominees put together by a nonpartisan nominating commission, and then subsequently stand for unopposed retention elections in which voters are asked whether the judges should be recalled. Ibid. If a judge is recalled, the vacancy is filled through a new nomination and appointment. Ibid. This system obviously reduces threats to judicial impartiality, even if it does not eliminate all popular pressure on judges. See Grodin, Developing a Consensus of Constraint: A Judge’s Perspective on Judicial Retention Elections, 61 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1969, 1980 (1988) (admitting that he cannot be sure that his votes as a California Supreme Court Justice
in “critical cases” during 1986 were not influenced subconsciously by his awareness that the outcomes could affect his chances in the retention elections being conducted that year). The Missouri Plan is currently used to fill at least some judicial offices in 15 States. Croley, supra, at 725-726; American Judicature Society, supra.
Thirty-one States, however, still use popular elections to select some or all of their appellate and/or general jurisdiction trial court judges, who thereafter run for reelection periodically. Ibid. Of these, slightly more than half use nonpartisan elections, and the rest use partisan elections. Ibid. Most of the States that do not have any form of judicial elections choose judges through executive nomination and legislative confirmation. See Croley, supra, at 725.
Minnesota has chosen to select its judges through contested popular elections instead of through an appointment system or a combined appointment and retention election system along the lines of the Missouri Plan. In doing so the State has voluntarily taken on the risks to judicial bias described above. As a result, the State’s claim that it needs to significantly restrict judges’ speech in order to protect judicial impartiality is particularly troubling. If the State has a problem with judicial impartiality, it is largely one the State brought upon itself by continuing the practice of popularly electing judges.
JUSTICE KENNEDY, concurring.
I agree with the Court that Minnesota’s prohibition on judicial candidates’ announcing their legal views is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech. There is authority for the Court to apply strict scrutiny analysis to resolve some First Amendment cases, see, e. g., Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of N. Y. State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U. S. 105 (1991), and the Court explains in clear and forceful terms why the Minnesota regulatory scheme fails that test. So I join its opinion.
I adhere to my view, however, that content-based speech restrictions that do not fall within any traditional exception should be invalidated without inquiry into narrow tailoring or compelling government interests. The speech at issue here does not come within any of the exceptions to the First Amendment recognized by the Court. “Here, a law is directed to speech alone where the speech in question is not obscene, not defamatory, not words tantamount to an act otherwise criminal, not an impairment of some other constitutional right, not an incitement to lawless action, and not calculated or likely to bring about imminent harm the State has the substantive power to prevent. No further inquiry is necessary to reject the State’s argument that the statute should be upheld.” Id., at 124 (KENNEDY, J., concurring in judgment). The political speech of candidates is at the heart of the First Amendment, and direct restrictions on the content of candidate speech are simply beyond the power of government to impose.
Here, Minnesota has sought to justify its speech restriction as one necessary to maintain the integrity of its judiciary. Nothing in the Court’s opinion should be read to cast doubt on the vital importance of this state interest. Courts, in our system, elaborate principles of law in the course of resolving disputes. The power and the prerogative of a court to perform this function rest, in the end, upon the respect accorded to its judgments. The citizen’s respect for judgments depends in turn upon the issuing court’s absolute probity. Judicial integrity is, in consequence, a state interest of the highest order.
Articulated standards of judicial conduct may advance this interest. See Shepard, Campaign Speech: Restraint and Liberty in Judicial Ethics, 9 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 1059 (1996). To comprehend, then to codify, the essence of judicial integrity is a hard task, however. “The work of deciding cases goes on every day in hundreds of courts throughout the land. Any judge, one might suppose, would find it easy to describe
the process which he had followed a thousand times and more. Nothing could be farther from the truth.” B. Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process 9 (1921). Much the same can be said of explicit standards to ensure judicial integrity. To strive for judicial integrity is the work of a lifetime. That should not dissuade the profession. The difficulty of the undertaking does not mean we should refrain from the attempt. Explicit standards of judicial conduct provide essential guidance for judges in the proper discharge of their duties and the honorable conduct of their office. The legislative bodies, judicial committees, and professional associations that promulgate those standards perform a vital public service. See, e. g., Administrative Office of U. S. Courts, Code of Judicial Conduct for United States Judges (1999). Yet these standards may not be used by the State to abridge the speech of aspiring judges in a judicial campaign.
Minnesota may choose to have an elected judiciary. It may strive to define those characteristics that exemplify judicial excellence. It may enshrine its definitions in a code of judicial conduct. It may adopt recusal standards more rigorous than due process requires, and censure judges who violate these standards. What Minnesota may not do, however, is censor what the people hear as they undertake to decide for themselves which candidate is most likely to be an exemplary judicial officer. Deciding the relevance of candidate speech is the right of the voters, not the State. See Brown v. Hartlage, 456 U. S. 45, 60 (1982). The law in question here contradicts the principle that unabridged speech is the foundation of political freedom.
The State of Minnesota no doubt was concerned, as many citizens and thoughtful commentators are concerned, that judicial campaigns in an age of frenetic fundraising and mass media may foster disrespect for the legal system. Indeed, from the beginning there have been those who believed that the rough-and-tumble of politics would bring our governmental institutions into ill repute. And some have sought to
cure this tendency with governmental restrictions on political speech. See Sedition Act of 1798, ch. 74, 1 Stat. 596. Cooler heads have always recognized, however, that these measures abridge the freedom of speech — not because the state interest is insufficiently compelling, but simply because content-based restrictions on political speech are “`expressly and positively forbidden by’” the First Amendment. See New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 274 (1964) (quoting the Virginia Resolutions of 1798). The State cannot opt for an elected judiciary and then assert that its democracy, in order to work as desired, compels the abridgment of speech.
If Minnesota believes that certain sorts of candidate speech disclose flaws in the candidate’s credentials, democracy and free speech are their own correctives. The legal profession, the legal academy, the press, voluntary groups, political and civic leaders, and all interested citizens can use their own First Amendment freedoms to protest statements inconsistent with standards of judicial neutrality and judicial excellence. Indeed, if democracy is to fulfill its promise, they must do so. They must reach voters who are uninterested or uninformed or blinded by partisanship, and they must urge upon the voters a higher and better understanding of the judicial function and a stronger commitment to preserving its finest traditions. Free elections and free speech are a powerful combination: Together they may advance our understanding of the rule of law and further a commitment to its precepts.
There is general consensus that the design of the Federal Constitution, including lifetime tenure and appointment by nomination and confirmation, has preserved the independence of the Federal Judiciary. In resolving this case, however, we should refrain from criticism of the State’s choice to use open elections to select those persons most likely to achieve judicial excellence. States are free to choose this mechanism rather than, say, appointment and confirmation.
By condemning judicial elections across the board, we implicitly condemn countless elected state judges and without warrant. Many of them, despite the difficulties imposed by the election system, have discovered in the law the enlightenment, instruction, and inspiration that make them independent-minded and faithful jurists of real integrity. We should not, even by inadvertence, “impute to judges a lack of firmness, wisdom, or honor.” Bridges v. California, 314 U. S. 252, 273 (1941).
These considerations serve but to reinforce the conclusion that Minnesota’s regulatory scheme is flawed. By abridging speech based on its content, Minnesota impeaches its own system of free and open elections. The State may not regulate the content of candidate speech merely because the speakers are candidates. This case does not present the question whether a State may restrict the speech of judges because they are judges — for example, as part of a code of judicial conduct; the law at issue here regulates judges only when and because they are candidates. Whether the rationale of Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School Dist. 205, Will Cty., 391 U. S. 563, 568 (1968), and Connick v. Myers, 461 U. S. 138 (1983), could be extended to allow a general speech restriction on sitting judges — regardless of whether they are campaigning — in order to promote the efficient administration of justice, is not an issue raised here.
Petitioner Gregory Wersal was not a sitting judge but a challenger; he had not voluntarily entered into an employment relationship with the State or surrendered any First Amendment rights. His speech may not be controlled or abridged in this manner. Even the undoubted interest of the State in the excellence of its judiciary does not allow it to restrain candidate speech by reason of its content. Minnesota’s attempt to regulate campaign speech is impermissible.
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE SOUTER, JUSTICE GINSBURG, and JUSTICE BREYER join, dissenting.