Should Judges Take Leave of the 1st Amendment?

A judge with the Los Angeles Superior Court once told a group attending a Meet the Judges event that when he and his colleagues became judges, they gave up a certain degree of their First Amendment rights, such as what they could say or write publicly and groups and individuals with whom they can associate.

This New York Law Journal article with the headline, “Judicial Ethics Opinion 12-87” reminded me of that.

In this case, the opinion says, “… a judge may be a member “of an educational, religious, charitable, cultural, fraternal or civic organization not conducted for profit” (22 NYCRR 100.4[C][3]) subject to certain restrictions and limitations.”

The concern is over possible or perceived conflict of interest.

That brings to mind situations involving members of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, where I now live and where there seems to be a much looser interpretation of that issue.

For instance, a current Wisconsin justice when running for the high court a few years ago, said she saw no problem with presiding over cases in which a financial institution on whose board her husband served was a party, and not even disclosing that relationship to other parties to the case.

It also reminds me of associations some members of the U.S. Supreme Court have, such as Antonin Scalia going on hunting trips and socializing with then-Vice President Dick Cheney. News stories in 2004 questioned the ethics of Scalia’s behavior. One of Scalia’s trips occurred shortly after the Court agreed to hear Cheney’s  appeal in lawsuits over his handling of the administration’s energy task force. Scalia Scalia joined the majority ruling in Cheney’s favor.

Situations like those leave me wondering just how impartial such judges and justices can be, despite their assurances that they really are. Do they truly believe such circumstances can instill trust and confidence in the judicial system?

How would I feel about a judge whose question prompted the answer in the New York Law Journal’s opinion article, if he did chair a committee of a nonprofit organization and I were an opposing party in a case with that nonprofit that was before him in which he was to be an “impartial” judge?




One response to “Should Judges Take Leave of the 1st Amendment?

  1. I believe that Judges them to be open concerning their involvements, thereby presenting to the public an honest picture of decisions they rule on. It would also encourage them to excuse themselves from cases where they may be influenced in some way ( hopefully ).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s