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Client Successes, News

Schnader Team Helped Secure Supreme Court Victory for Fair Courts

05/05/2015

Schnader attorneys helped obtain a victory on behalf of state and local judicial reform groups in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case originated in Florida, one of 39 states (including Pennsylvania) where voters elect judges at the polls. To promote public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, the Florida Supreme Court adopted Canon 7C(1) of its Code of Judicial Conduct, providing that judicial candidates may not personally solicit campaign funds, though they may establish election campaign committees.

The controversy arose when Lanell Williams-Yulee mailed and posted online a letter soliciting financial contributions to her campaign for judicial office. The Florida Bar disciplined her for violating a Florida Bar Rule requiring candidates to comply with Canon 7C(1). Yulee argued that the First Amendment protects her right to personally solicit campaign funds in an election; the Florida Supreme Court upheld the disciplinary sanctions. On April 29, 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the ban on direct personal solicitation by judicial candidates.

Schnader, serving as co-counsel with Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP, represented amici Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and twelve other state and local judicial reform groups, including the League of Women Voters. The amici emphasized that as long as a system of privately-financed judicial elections exists, it should minimize the appearance of contributors’ influence on judicial decisions to the greatest extent possible. The Court agreed. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,

"Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State's decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor - and without having personally asked anyone for money."

Nancy Winkelman, Paul Titus and Shannon L.C. Ammon represented this amici group in the U.S. Supreme Court.