Supreme Court won’t hear judicial-speech case

Monday, January 23, 2006

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused today to decide whether states can restrict candidates for judgeships from participating in political party activities and soliciting campaign contributions.

By doing so, the justices let stand a controversial lower court decision that voided rules that Minnesota and 30 other states have adopted to keep elections nonpartisan. The case involved today is Dimick v. Republican Party of Minnesota, 05-566.

Four years ago, in Republican Party v. White, the high court split 5-4 in striking down another provision of Minnesota's judicial-election rules that prohibited a candidate from revealing his or her legal or political views. The justices said then that Minnesota's “announce clause” violated the First Amendment's guarantees of free speech.

Last year, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Minnesota's other restrictions on partisan activities and fundraising, saying the rules violated the candidates' First Amendment rights.

A twice-failed candidate for judge, Gregory Wersal, and the state's Republican Party had challenged Minnesota's restrictions, arguing that the rules prevented the public from making informed decisions in judicial elections.

The American Bar Association and 39 of the country's largest corporations had urged the justices to take the case to ensure the credibility of judicial elections nationwide.

The ABA said the 8th Circuit's ruling has thrown judicial elections in 31 states into confusion because they have similar rules to those that were invalidated.

The corporations — including Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Motors, PepsiCo and Wal-Mart — said they didn't want judicial elections to become as polarized as campaigns for other elective offices.

“A choice to democratically elect judges need not entail the acceptance of all of the negative effects that may flow from partisan elections,” lawyers for the companies said in a friend-of-the court filing.

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