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District Court: Judges maintain First Amendment rights

A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge should be allowed to engage in political discussion, according to a federal trial court decision from the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb has upheld the free speech rights of judges. Crabb’s decision (PDF) in Siefert v. Alexander found the state Supreme Court Rules prohibiting judges from engaging in political speech were unconstitutional.

Judge John Siefert challenged the rules restricting judges from being members of political parties, supporting political candidates and soliciting campaign contributions. (SCR 60.06(2)(b)(1), SCR 60.06(2)(b)(4) and SCR 60.06(4))

In her decision, Crabb referenced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White in which the Supreme Court affirmed the free speech rights of judicial candidates.

Crabb wrote, “Reviewing these canons in light of the Supreme Court’s opinion in White (White I) and defendants’ failure to show that any of the rules challenged by plaintiff is narrowly tailored to promote a compelling state interest, as required under the First Amendment, I must conclude that the rules at issue do not withstand strict scrutiny. This conclusion should not be viewed as denigrating the conscientious efforts made by the state supreme court and many lawyers over many years to draft canons that they believe are necessary to maintain a non-partisan judiciary. It may be that the job is impossible.”

Supporters of the rules have expressed concerns about losing the appearance of impartiality on the bench if judges were to engage in political speech.

One comment

  1. Bad decisions are usually very long. This one is no exception. I think the judge confuses facts with her own opinions. It is a very sad day for the people of Wisconsin. I hope the state appeals and that she is reversed. If not, our judiciary will sink down to the lowest levels joining politicians as some of the most hated people in America. Equally troubling is her “one-size-fits-all” approach.

    To say that having our judges act like politicians is good for the people is simply crazy. It’s the last thing we need in Wisconsin. This may well be the worst decision she ever issued.

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