Republican Party of Minnesota v. White

The Minnesota Supreme Court has adopted a canon of judicial conduct that prohibits a “candidate for a judicial office” from “announc[ing] his or her views on disputed legal or political issues” (hereinafter announce clause). While running for associate justice of that court, petitioner Gregory Wersal (and others) filed this suit seeking a declaration that the announce clause violates the First Amendment and an injunction against its enforcement. The District Court granted respondent officials summary judgment, and the Eighth Circuit affirmed.

Held: The announce clause violates the First Amendment. Pp. 770-788.

(a) The record demonstrates that the announce clause prohibits a judicial candidate from stating his views on any specific nonfancifullegal 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. Pp. 770-774.

(b) The announce clause both prohibits speech based on its content and burdens a category of speech that is at the core of First Amendment freedoms-speech about the qualifications of candidates for public office. The Eighth Circuit concluded, and the parties do not dispute, that the proper test to be applied to determine the constitutionality of such a restriction is strict scrutiny, under which respondents have the burden to prove that the clause is (1) narrowly tailored, to serve (2) a compelling state interest. E. g., Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Comm., 489 U. S. 214, 222. That court found that respondents had established two interests as sufficiently compelling to justify the announce clause: preserving the state judiciary’s impartiality and preserving the appearance of that impartiality. Pp. 774-775.

(c) Under any definition of “impartiality,” the announce clause fails strict scrutiny. First, it is plain that the clause is not narrowly tailored to serve impartiality (or its appearance) in the traditional sense of the word, i. e., as a lack of bias for or against either party to the proceeding. Indeed, the clause is barely tailored to serve that interest at all, inasmuch as it does not restrict speech for or against particular parties,

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