Chief Justice John Roberts Votes to Limit Campaign Funding for Judges

by Joan McCarter –

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Now this is intriguing. In a decision released Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined with the court’s liberals to restrict fund-raising by judicial candidates. Yes, the same John Roberts who voted with conservatives on Citizens United and McCutcheon, the cases that gut most campaign spending limits. Judges, Roberts has decided, “are not politicians.”

The justices ruled 5-4 that Florida’s judicial code of conduct can ban candidates from asking for donations. As a result, in 30 states that elect state and local judges, restrictions on fundraising by judicial candidates can remain in place.Chief Justice John Roberts was joined by the court’s four liberal justices in an unusual alignment against the other four conservatives. He wrote for the majority that “judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot.”

While he acknowledged that Florida’s code allows a judicial candidate’s political committee to solicit funds, and even lets the candidates thank donors, Roberts said directly asking for money is most likely to harm the public’s confidence in an independent judiciary.

“The identity of the person asking for money matters, as anyone who has encountered a Girl Scout selling cookies outside a grocery store can attest,” he said. “When the judicial candidate himself asks for money, the stakes are higher for all involved.”

This is indeed a curiosity. In his dissent, Justice Kennedy pointed out that there was some irony in this court deciding that while they say the First Amendment protected the donors who want to give unlimited money without disclosure, it doesn’t protect judges asking those same donors for money directly. But judges are different, Roberts says, and shouldn’t be soliciting. From one of the most political justices on what is definitely the most politically activist Supreme Court, that’s pretty surprising.

While it’s impossible to know where Roberts is on the other big political cases this term—King v. Burwell on Obamacare and Obergefell v. Hodges on marriage equality—until he actually rules, this does lend itself to some fun speculation. Maybe Roberts feels just a little bit burned by the reaction to Citizens United and McCutcheon and being lumped in with Scalia, Alito, and Thomas as extremely activist judges. Maybe he’s looking to appear just a little less politicized himself, and figures siding with the liberals on some of these cases might be a way to burnish his legacy a bit. Or maybe he really does think judges are different and we can’t draw any conclusions. Either way, he’s intrigued plenty of court watchers with this decision.

 

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

 

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