A divided Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that states can prohibit judicial candidates from soliciting campaign donations, rejecting arguments such bans violate the free-speech protections guaranteed by the First Amendment. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court’s majority in a 5-4 opinion, said judges aren’t politicians, even when they join the bench by way of an election.“A state’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office,” the chief justice wrote. “A state may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money.”
The case saw the chief justice split with his four fellow conservatives. Support for Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion, which upheld fundraising restrictions in Florida, came from the court’s four liberal justices, a rare alignment.
Justice Antonin Scalia in dissent said states are free to select judges by means other than elections. But if states want to choose judges at the ballot box, the First Amendment shouldn’t allow restrictions on candidates directly asking for donations, he said. By ruling otherwise, “the court flattens one settled First Amendment principle after another,” he wrote.