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.