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
Shortly thereafter, Wersal filed this lawsuit in Federal District Court against respondents,
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
A third possible meaning of "impartiality" (again not a common one) might be described as open mindedness. 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 open mindedness, or at least in the appearance of open mindedness, because it relieves a judge from pressure to rule a certain way in order to maintain consistency with
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
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
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
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, itviolates 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
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.
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 longestablished" 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;
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,
* * *
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg has cogently explained why the Court's holding is unsound. I therefore join her opinion without reservation. I add these comments to emphasize the force of her arguments and to explain why I find the Court's reasoning even more troubling than its holding. The limits of the Court's holding are evident: Even if the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (Board) may not sanction a judicial candidate for announcing his views on issues likely to come before him, it may surely advise the electorate that such announcements demonstrate the speaker's unfitness for judicial office. If the solution to harmful speech must be more speech, so be it. The Court's reasoning, however, will unfortunately endure beyond the next election cycle. By obscuring the fundamental distinction between campaigns for the judiciary and the political branches, and by failing to recognize the difference between statements made in articles or opinions and those made on the campaign trail, the Court defies any sensible notion of the judicial office and the importance of impartiality in that context.
The Court's disposition rests on two seriously flawed premises—an inaccurate appraisal of the importance of judicial independence and impartiality, and an assumption that judicial candidates should have the same freedom "`to express themselves on matters of current public importance' " as do all other elected officials. Ante, at 781-782. Elected judges, no less than appointed judges, occupy an office of trust that is fundamentally different from that occupied by policymaking officials. Although the fact that they must stand for election makes their job more difficult than that of the tenured judge, that fact does not lessen their duty to respect essential attributes of the judicial office that have been embedded in Anglo-American law for centuries.
Consistent with that fundamental attribute of the office, countless judges in countless cases routinely make rulings that are unpopular and surely disliked by at least 50 percent of the litigants who appear before them. It is equally common for them to enforce rules that they think unwise, or that are contrary to their personal predilections. For this reason, opinions that a lawyer may have expressed before becoming a judge, or a judicial candidate, do not disqualify anyone for judicial service because every good judge is fully aware of the distinction between the law and a personal point of view. It is equally clear, however, that such expressions after a lawyer has been nominated to judicial office shed little, if any, light on his capacity for judicial service. Indeed, to the extent that such statements 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 the office.
By recognizing a conflict between the demands of electoral politics and the distinct characteristics of the judiciary, we
A candidate for judicial office who goes beyond the expression of "general observation about the law . . . in order to obtain favorable consideration" of his candidacy, Laird v. Tatum, 409 U.S. 824, 836, n. 5 (1972) (memorandum of Rehnquist, J., on motion for recusal), demonstrates either a lack of impartiality or a lack of understanding of the importance of maintaining public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. It is only by failing to recognize the distinction, clearly stated by then-Justice Rehnquist, between statements made during a campaign or confirmation hearing and those made before announcing one's candidacy, that the Court is able to conclude: "[S]ince 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," ante, at 778.
Even when "impartiality" is defined in its narrowest sense to embrace only "the lack of bias for or against either party to the proceeding," ante, at 775, the announce clause serves that interest. Expressions that stress a candidate's unbroken
When the Court evaluates the importance of impartiality in its broadest sense, which it describes as "the interest in openmindedness, or at least in the appearance of openmindedness," ante, at 778, it concludes that the announce clause is "so woefully underinclusive as to render belief in that purpose a challenge to the credulous," ante, at 780. It is under inclusive, in the Court's view, because campaign statements are an infinitesimal portion of the public commitments to legal positions that candidates make during their professional careers. It is not, however, the number of legal views that a candidate may have formed or discussed in his prior career that is significant. Rather, it is the ability both to reevaluate them in the light of an adversarial presentation, and to apply the governing rule of law even when inconsistent with those views, that characterize judicial openmindedness.
The Court boldly asserts that respondents have failed to carry their burden of demonstrating "that campaign statements are uniquely destructive of openmindedness," ante, at 781. But the very purpose of most statements prohibited by the announce clause is to convey the message that the candidate's mind is not open on a particular issue. The lawyer who writes an article advocating harsher penalties for polluters surely does not commit to that position to the same degree as the candidate who says "vote for me because I believe all polluters deserve harsher penalties." At the
The Court seems to have forgotten its prior evaluation of the importance of maintaining public confidence in the "disinterestedness" of the judiciary. Commenting on the danger that participation by judges in a political assignment might erode that public confidence, we wrote: "While the problem of individual bias is usually cured through recusal, no such mechanism can overcome the appearance of institutional partiality that may arise from judiciary involvement in the making of policy. The legitimacy of the Judicial Branch ultimately depends on its reputation for impartiality and nonpartisanship. That reputation may not be borrowed by the political Branches to cloak their work in the neutral colors of judicial action." Mistretta v. United States, 488 U.S. 361, 407 (1989).
Conversely, the judicial reputation for impartiality and openmindedness is compromised by electioneering that emphasizes the candidate's personal predilections rather than his qualifications for judicial office. As an elected judge recently noted:
The disposition of this case on the flawed premise that the criteria for the election to judicial office should mirror the rules applicable to political elections is profoundly misguided. I therefore respectfully dissent.
Justice Ginsburg, with whom Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, and Justice Breyer join, dissenting.
Whether state or federal, elected or appointed, judges perform a function fundamentally different from that of the people's elected representatives. Legislative and executive officials act on behalf of the voters who placed them in office; "judge[s] represen[t] the Law." Chisom v. Roemer, 501 U.S. 380, 411 (1991) (Scalia, J., dissenting). Unlike their counterparts in the political branches, judges are expected to
A judiciary capable of performing this function, owing fidelity to no person or party, is a "longstanding AngloAmerican tradition," United States v. Will, 449 U.S. 200, 217 (1980), an essential bulwark of constitutional government, a constant guardian of the rule of law. The guarantee of an independent, impartial judiciary enables society to "withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts." West Virginia Bd. of Ed. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 638 (1943). "Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing." The Federalist No. 78, p. 466 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961).
The ability of the judiciary to discharge its unique role rests to a large degree on the manner in which judges are selected. The Framers of the Federal Constitution sought to advance the judicial function through the structural protections of Article III, which provide for the selection of judges by the President on the advice and consent of the Senate, generally for lifetime terms. Through its own Constitution, Minnesota, in common with most other States, has decided to allow its citizens to choose judges directly in periodic elections. But Minnesota has not thereby opted to install a corps of political actors on the bench; rather, it has endeavored to preserve the integrity of its judiciary by other means. Recognizing that the influence of political parties is incompatible with the judge's role, for example, Minnesota
The question this case presents is whether the First Amendment stops Minnesota from furthering its interest in judicial integrity through this precisely targeted speech restriction.
The speech restriction must fail, in the Court's view, because an electoral process is at stake; if Minnesota opts to elect its judges, the Court asserts, the State may not rein in what candidates may say. See ante, at 781 (notion that "right to speak out on disputed issues" may be abridged in an election context "sets our First Amendment jurisprudence on its head"); ante, at 787-788 (power to dispense with elections does not include power to curtail candidate speech if State leaves election process in place); 247 F. 3d, at 897 (Beam, J., dissenting) ("[W]hen a state opts to hold an election, it must commit itself to a complete election, replete with free speech and association."); id., at 903 (same).
I do not agree with this unilocular, "an election is an election," approach. Instead, I would differentiate elections for political offices, in which the First Amendment holds full sway, from elections designed to select those whose office it is to administer justice without respect to persons. Minnesota's choice to elect its judges, I am persuaded, does not preclude the State from installing an election process geared to the judicial office.
Legislative and executive officials serve in representative capacities. They are agents of the people; their primary function is to advance the interests of their constituencies. Candidates for political offices, in keeping with their representative
Judges, however, are not political actors. They do not sit as representatives of particular persons, communities, or parties; they serve no faction or constituency. "[I]t is the business of judges to be indifferent to popularity." Chisom, 501 U. S., at 401, n. 29 (internal quotation marks omitted). They must strive to do what is legally right, all the more so when the result is not the one "the home crowd" wants. Rehnquist, Dedicatory Address: Act Well Your Part: Therein All Honor Lies, 7 Pepperdine L. Rev. 227, 229-300 (1980). Even when they develop common law or give concrete meaning to constitutional text, judges act only in the context of individual cases, the outcome of which cannot depend on the will of the public. See Barnette, 319 U. S., at 638 ("One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.").
Thus, 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. As to persons aiming to occupy the seat of judgment, the Court's unrelenting reliance on decisions involving contests for legislative and executive posts is manifestly out of place. E. g., ante, at 781-782 (quoting Wood v. Georgia,
The Court sees in this conclusion, and in the Announce Clause that embraces it, "an obvious tension," ante, at 787: The Minnesota electorate is permitted to select its judges by popular vote, but is not provided information on "subjects of interest to the voters," ibid. —in particular, the voters are not told how the candidate would decide controversial cases or issues if elected. This supposed tension, however, rests on the false premise that by departing from the federal model with respect to who chooses judges, Minnesota necessarily departed from the federal position on the criteria relevant to the exercise of that choice.
Nothing in the Court's opinion convincingly explains why Minnesota may not pursue that goal in the manner it did.
Minnesota did not choose a judicial selection system with all the trappings of legislative and executive races. While providing for public participation, it tailored judicial selection to fit the character of third branch office holding. See id., at 425 (Minnesota's system "keep[s] the ultimate choice with the voters while, at the same time, recognizing the unique independent nature of the judicial function."). The balance the State sought to achieve—allowing the people to elect judges, but safeguarding the process so that the integrity of the judiciary would not be compromised—should encounter
Proper resolution of this case requires correction of the Court's distorted construction of the provision before us for review. According to the Court, 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. " Ante, at 773. In two key respects, that construction misrepresents the meaning of the Announce Clause as interpreted by the Eighth Circuit and embraced by the Minnesota Supreme Court, In re Code of Judicial Conduct, 639 N.W.2d 55 (2002), which has the final word on this matter, see Hortonville Joint School Dist. No. 1 v. Hortonville Ed. Assn., 426 U.S. 482, 488 (1976) ("We are, of course, bound to accept the interpretation of [the State's] law by the highest court of the State.").
First and most important, the Court ignores a crucial limiting construction placed on the Announce Clause by the courts below. The provision does not bar a candidate from generally "stating [her] views" on legal questions, ante, at 773; it prevents her from "publicly making known how [she] would decide " disputed issues, 247 F. 3d, at 881-882 (emphasis added). That limitation places beyond the scope of the Announce Clause a wide range of comments that may be highly informative to voters. Consistent with the Eighth Circuit's construction, such comments may include, for example, statements of historical fact ("As a prosecutor, I obtained 15 drunk driving convictions"); qualified statements ("Judges should use sparingly their discretion to grant lenient sentences to drunk drivers"); and statements framed
Second, the Court misportrays the scope of the Clause as applied to a candidate's discussion of past decisions. Citing an apparent concession by respondents at argument, id., at 33-34, the Court concludes that "statements critical of past judicial decisions are not permissible if the candidate also states that he is against stare decisis, " ante, at 772 (emphasis deleted). That conclusion, however, draws no force from the meaning attributed to the Announce Clause by the Eighth Circuit. In line with the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards, the Court of Appeals stated without qualification that the Clause "does not prohibit candidates from discussing appellate court decisions." 247 F. 3d, at 882 (citing Minn. Bd. on Judicial Standards, Informal Opinion, Oct. 10, 1990, App. 55 ("In all election contests, a candidate for judicial office may discuss decisions and opinions of the Appellate courts.")). The Eighth Circuit's controlling construction should not be modified by respondents' on the spot answers to fast-paced hypothetical questions at oral argument. Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 170 (1972) ("We are loath to attach conclusive weight to the relatively spontaneous responses of counsel to equally spontaneous questioning from the Court during oral argument.").
The Announce Clause is thus more tightly bounded, and campaigns conducted under that provision more robust, than the Court acknowledges. Judicial candidates in Minnesota may not only convey general information about themselves, see ante, at 774, they may also describe their conception of the role of a judge and their views on a wide range of subjects
The Court's characterization of the Announce Clause as "election-nullifying," ante, at 782, "plac[ing] most subjects of interest to the voters off limits," ante, at 787, is further belied by the facts of this case. In his 1996 bid for office, petitioner Gregory Wersal distributed literature sharply criticizing three Minnesota Supreme Court decisions. Of the court's holding in the first case—that certain unrecorded confessions must be suppressed—Wersal asked, "Should we conclude that because the Supreme Court does not trust police, it allows confessed criminals to go free?" App. 37. Of the second case, invalidating a state welfare law, Wersal stated: "The Court should have deferred to the Legislature. It's the Legislature which should set our spending policies." Ibid. And of the third case, a decision involving abortion rights, Wersal charged that the court's holding was "directly contrary to the opinion of the U. S. Supreme Court," "unprecedented," and a "pro-abortion stance." Id., at 38.
When a complaint was filed against Wersal on the basis of those statements, id., at 12-15, the Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board concluded that no discipline was warranted,
Even as it exaggerates the reach of the Announce Clause, the Court ignores the significance of that provision to the integrated system of judicial campaign regulation Minnesota has developed. Coupled with the Announce Clause in Minnesota's Code of Judicial Conduct is a provision that prohibits candidates from "mak[ing] pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office." Minn. Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 5(A)(3)(d)(i) (2002). Although the Court is correct that this "pledges or promises" provision is not directly at issue in this case, see ante, at 770, the Court errs in overlooking the interdependence of that prohibition and the one before us. In my view, the constitutionality of the Announce
All parties to this case agree that, whatever the validity of the Announce Clause, the State may constitutionally prohibit judicial candidates from pledging or promising certain results. See Brief for Petitioners Republican Party of Minnesota et al. 36-37; Tr. of Oral Arg. 14-16 (petitioners' acknowledgment that candidates may be barred from making a "pledge or promise of an outcome"); Brief for Respondents 11; see also Brief for Brennan Center for Justice et al. as Amici Curiae 23 ("All of the parties and amici in this case agree that judges should not make explicit promises or commitments to decide particular cases in a particular manner.").
The reasons for this agreement are apparent. Pledges or promises of conduct in office, however commonplace in races for the political branches, are inconsistent "with the judge's obligation to decide cases in accordance with his or her role." Tr. of Oral Arg. 16; see Brief for Petitioners Republican Party of Minnesota et al. 36 ("[B]ecause [judges] have a duty to decide a case on the basis of the law and facts before them, they can be prohibited, as candidates, from making such promises."). This judicial obligation to avoid prejudgment corresponds to the litigant's right, protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, to "an impartial and disinterested tribunal in both civil and criminal cases," Marshall v. Jerrico, Inc., 446 U.S. 238, 242 (1980). The proscription against pledges or promises thus represents an accommodation of "constitutionally protected interests [that] lie on both sides of the legal equation." Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U.S. 377, 400 (2000) (Breyer, J., concurring). Balanced against the candidate's interest in free expression is the litigant's "powerful and independent constitutional interest in fair adjudicative procedure." Marshall, 446 U. S., at 243; see Buckley, 997 F. 2d,
The impartiality guaranteed to litigants through the Due Process Clause adheres to a core principle: "[N]o man is permitted to try cases where he has an interest in the outcome." In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136 (1955). Our cases have "jealously guarded" that basic concept, for it "ensur[es] that no person will be deprived of his interests in the absence of a proceeding in which he may present his case with assurance that the arbiter is not predisposed to find against him." Marshall, 446 U. S., at 242.
Applying this principle in Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510 (1927), we held that due process was violated where a judge received a portion of the fines collected from defendants whom he found guilty. Such an arrangement, we said, gave the judge a "direct, personal, substantial[, and] pecuniary interest" in reaching a particular outcome and thereby denied the defendant his right to an impartial arbiter. Id., at 523. Ward v. Monroeville, 409 U.S. 57 (1972), extended Tumey `s reasoning, holding that due process was similarly violated where fines collected from guilty defendants constituted a large part of a village's finances, for which the judge, who also served as the village mayor, was responsible. Even though the mayor did not personally share in those fines, we concluded, he "perforce occupie[d] two practically and seriously inconsistent positions, one partisan and the other judicial." 409 U. S., at 60 (internal quotation marks omitted).
We applied the principle of Tumey and Ward most recently in Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813 (1986). That decision invalidated a ruling of the Alabama Supreme Court written by a justice who had a personal interest in the resolution of a dispositive issue. The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling was issued while the justice was pursuing a separate lawsuit in an Alabama lower court, and its outcome "had the clear and immediate effect of enhancing both the legal status
These cases establish three propositions important to this dispute. First, a litigant is deprived of due process where the judge who hears his case has a "direct, personal, substantial, and pecuniary" interest in ruling against him. Id., at 824 (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). Second, this interest need not be as direct as it was in Tumey, where the judge was essentially compensated for each conviction he obtained; the interest may stem, as in Ward, from the judge's knowledge that his success and tenure in office depend on certain outcomes. "[T]he test," we have said, "is whether the . . . situation is one `which would offer a possible temptation to the average man as a judge [that] might lead him not to hold the balance nice, clear and true.' " Ward, 409 U. S., at 60 (quoting Tumey, 273 U. S., at 532). And third, due process does not require a showing that the judge is actually biased as a result of his self-interest. Rather, our cases have "always endeavored to prevent even the probability of unfairness." In re Murchison, 349 U. S., at 136. "[T]he requirement of due process of law in judicial procedure is not satisfied by the argument that men of the highest honor and the greatest self-sacrifice could carry it on without danger of injustice." Tumey, 273 U. S., at 532.
A judge in this position therefore may be thought to have a "direct, personal, substantial, [and] pecuniary interest" in ruling against certain litigants, Tumey, 273 U. S., at 523, for she may be voted off the bench and thereby lose her salary and emoluments unless she honors the pledge that secured her election. See Shepard, Campaign Speech: Restraint and Liberty in Judicial Ethics, 9 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 1059, 1083— 1092 (1996); see id., at 1088 ("[A] campaign promise [may be characterized as] a bribe offered to voters, paid with rulings consistent with that promise, in return for continued employment
Given this grave danger to litigants from judicial campaign promises, States are justified in barring expression of such commitments, for they typify the "situatio[n] . . . in which experience teaches that the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge . . . is too high to be constitutionally tolerable." Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U.S. 35, 47 (1975). By removing this source of "possible temptation" for a judge to rule on the basis of self-interest, Tumey, 273 U. S., at 532, the pledges or promises prohibition furthers the State's "compellin[g] interest in maintaining a judiciary fully capable of performing" its appointed task, Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 472 (1991): "judging [each] particular controversy fairly on the basis of its own circumstances," United States v. Morgan, 313 U.S. 409, 421 (1941). See O'Neil, 35 Ind. L. Rev., at 723 ("What is at stake here is no less than the promise of fairness, impartiality, and ultimately of due process for those whose lives and fortunes depend upon judges being selected by means that are not fully subject to the vagaries of American politics.").
In addition to protecting litigants' due process rights, the parties in this case further agree, the pledges or promises clause advances another compelling state interest: preserving the public's confidence in the integrity and impartiality of its judiciary. See Tr. of Oral Arg. 16 (petitioners' statement that pledges or promises properly fosters "public perception of the impartiality of the judiciary"). See Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559, 565 (1965) ("A State may . . . properly protect the judicial process from being misjudged in the minds of the public."); In re Murchison, 349 U. S., at 136 ("[T]o perform its high function in the best way[,] `justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.' " (quoting Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 14 (1954))). Because courts control
Prohibiting a judicial candidate from pledging or promising certain results if elected directly promotes the State's interest in preserving public faith in the bench. When a candidate makes such a promise during a campaign, the public will no doubt perceive that she is doing so in the hope of garnering votes. And the public will in turn likely conclude that when the candidate decides an issue in accord with that promise, she does so at least in part to discharge her undertaking to the voters in the previous election and to prevent voter abandonment in the next. The perception of that unseemly quid pro quo— a judicial candidate's promises on issues in return for the electorate's votes at the polls—inevitably diminishes the public's faith in the ability of judges to administer the law without regard to personal or political self-interest.
The constitutionality of the pledges or promises clause is thus amply supported; the provision not only advances due process of law for litigants in Minnesota courts, it also reinforces the authority of the Minnesota judiciary by promoting public confidence in the State's judges. The Announce Clause, however, is equally vital to achieving these compelling ends, for without it, the pledges or promises provision would be feeble, an arid form, a matter of no real importance.
Uncoupled from the Announce Clause, the ban on pledges or promises is easily circumvented. By prefacing a campaign commitment with the caveat, "although I cannot promise anything," or by simply avoiding the language of promises or pledges altogether, a candidate could declare with impunity how she would decide specific issues. Semantic sanitizing of the candidate's commitment would not, however, diminish its pernicious effects on actual and perceived judicial impartiality. To use the Court's example, a candidate
By targeting statements that do not technically constitute pledges or promises but nevertheless "publicly mak[e] known how [the candidate] would decide" legal issues, 247 F. 3d, at 881-882, the Announce Clause prevents this end run around the letter and spirit of its companion provision.
* * *
This Court has recognized in the past, as Justice O'Connor does today, see ante, at 788-790 (concurring opinion), a "fundamental tension between the ideal character of the judicial office and the real world of electoral politics," Chisom, 501 U. S., at 400. We have no warrant to resolve that tension, however, by forcing States to choose one pole or the other. Judges are not politicians, and the First Amendment does not require that they be treated as politicians simply because they are chosen by popular vote. Nor does the First Amendment command States that wish to promote the integrity of their judges in fact and appearance to abandon systems of judicial selection that the people, in the exercise of their sovereign prerogatives, have devised.
For more than three-quarters of a century, States like Minnesota have endeavored, through experiment tested by experience, to balance the constitutional interests in judicial integrity and free expression within the unique setting of an elected judiciary. P. McFadden, Electing Justice: The Law and Ethics of Judicial Election Campaigns 86 (1990); Brief for the Conference of Chief Justices as Amicus Curiae 5. The Announce Clause, borne of this long effort, "comes to this Court bearing a weighty title of respect," Teamsters v. Hanke, 339 U.S. 470, 475 (1950). I would uphold it as an essential component in Minnesota's accommodation of the complex and competing concerns in this sensitive area. Accordingly, I would affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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.
"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.
Indeed, the Court's entire analysis has a hypothetical quality to it that stems, in part, from the fact that no candidate has yet been sanctioned for violating the announce clause. The one complaint filed against petitioner Gregory Wersal for campaign materials during his 1996 election run was dismissed by the Board. App. 16-21. Moreover, when Wersal sought an advisory opinion during his 1998 campaign, the Board could not evaluate his request because he had "not specified what statement [he] would make that may or may not be a view on a disputed, legal or political issue." Id., at 32. Since Wersal failed to provide examples of statements he wished to make, and because the Board had its own doubts about the constitutionality of the announce clause, it advised Wersal that "unless the speech at issue violates other prohibitions listed in Canon 5 or other portions of the Code of Judicial Conduct, it is our belief that this section is not, as written, constitutionally enforceable." Ibid. Consequently, the Court is left to decide a question of great constitutional importance in a case in which either the petitioner's statements were not subject to the prohibition in question, or he neglected to supply any concrete examples of statements he wished to make, and the Board refused to enforce the prohibition because of its own constitutional concerns.