Are Special Plates Judicial ‘Witherspooning’?

My initial reaction to this story — Judicial license plates not unethical: N.Y. conduct panel — was, why would a judge want such a license plate, except to state to all who see it, “Do you know who I am?”

Such a statement could tell police officers, “Think, before you stop me for speeding or other traffic infractions,” and parking monitors, “This plate gives me special dispensation for this expired-meter space.”

The downside of asserting such privilege for a personal vehicle, to my mind, is the bulls-eye effect. Why, particularly in light of attacks on judges in recent decades, would a judicial officer want to wear a target like a license plate indicating that the driver/owner is a judge. It seems like a concern for personal security would trump any perks a special license plate might offer.

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has posited that while displaying such plates doesn’t violate judicial ethics, the panel did advise caution.

One commissioner in dissenting, however, said that “judges have an obligation to avoid even the appearance of currying favor, and displaying judicial plates goes against that duty, making them unethical.”

I tend to come down on that side of the question.

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