Legal Principle at Issue
Freedom of Speech Whether a state provision prohibiting judicial candidates from announcing their views on "disputed legal or political issues" violates the First Amendment.
Reversed and remanded. Petitioning party received a favorable disposition.
Minneapolis attorney Gregory Wersal announced that he was running for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court for the 1998 elections. Wersal sent a letter to the state judicial ethics officials asking if they would enforce certain provisions of Canon 5 of the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct. These provisions included a ban on judicial candidates attending political party gatherings, seeking endorsements from political parties and announcing their views on disputed legal or political issues.
After the state officials informed Wersal that they would enforce certain provisions, he sued in federal court. He challenged the constitutionality of the "attend" clause, the "endorsement clause" and the "announce" clause on First Amendment grounds. The Republican Party of Minnesota and others also joined in the suit.
Wersal challenged the announce clause in part because he wanted to announce that he favored a strict construction of the Constitution and because he wanted to continue criticizing certain decisions of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Both a federal district court and a federal appeals court upheld the constitutionality of all the challenged provisions of Canon 5. These courts reasoned that the provisions of Canon 5 were necessary to ensure judicial independence and judicial impartiality. The challengers then filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court agreed to review the case with respect to the announce clause only.