The Florida Bar said it stands behind its position that judicial candidates should not personally solicit contributions, but that appellate courts across the country have taken differing positions. When Lanell Williams-Yulee began running for a Hillsborough County judgeship in 2009, she signed a letter to would-be supporters seeking contributions for her campaign. Now, five years later, Williams-Yulee’s letter could spur the U.S. Supreme Court to wade into a First Amendment debate about whether it is constitutional for Florida and other states to bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions. Williams-Yulee’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue, after the Florida Supreme Court in May rejected arguments that the ban is unconstitutional and found that Williams-Yulee violated a code of conduct.
The possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the issue got a boost last month when The Florida Bar — which filed the complaint against Williams-Yulee — also urged the high court to resolve the matter. The Bar said in an Aug. 22 brief that it stands behind its position that judicial candidates should not personally solicit contributions, but that appellate courts across the country have taken differing positions on the issue.
“The issues at the heart of the conflicts are not such that they can accommodate different interpretations and applications in different jurisdictions and judicial forums without insulting fundamental principles,’’ said the brief filed by Bar attorneys Barry Richard and Hope Keating. “In this instance, the conflicts deal with the proper balance between two compelling interests at the heart of a free and just society. The manner in which that balance is struck should be applied uniformly to all citizens in all places and before all tribunals.”