Good News, Bad News: SCOTUS’ Decision on Judges and Campaign Financing

Supreme Court building

You see, judges are like snowflakes. Special in their own way.  



‘Good News, Bad News’ is when we take a news story that sounds like overwhelming good news, but as we dive deeper into the story, you realize there’s a kernel of bad news buried deep within. It’s like looking back fondly at a memorable family vacation to Sea World, only to realize that it was built on a killer whale’s anguish. In this installment, we look at the Supreme Court’s decision on campaign finance caps for judicial races.



The Good News: Campaign Caps on Judicial Races are Constitutional

Recently the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided that states could put campaign limits on candidates for judicial elections. The case revolves around a judicial candidate in Florida that sent out numerous mailers and created an aggressive online strategy that solicited donations for their campaign. Florida however felt they had violated the state’s judicial conduct code. So as any lawyer would do, they re-evaluated their campaign strategy and tried to create a practical…


the simpsons laughing


Ah, I’m just playin’, they sued the state.


“ABS: Always Be Suing”

“ABS: Always Be Suing”


Their argument was that the state’s judicial code violated their right to free speech based on past rulings like the Citizens United case. The case actually went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Now one would think because of the rulings over Citizens United, SCOTUS would place the judicial candidate into a cash box and side with them based on the precedence on past rulings.


But here’s the interesting thing, they didn’t!


In a 5-4 decision – which included four liberal judges and Chief Justice John Roberts (Really??) – they actually ruled that states could set limits on fundraising efforts for judicial elections. While not barring judicial candidates from raising money, it does give states some control in how candidates can fundraise for judicial elections.


Even though this is a huge victory for many who want strong campaign finance laws, the reasoning behind SCOTUS’ decision however will make you feel as if you bitten into that one coconut piece in a Whitman’s box of chocolates; a little odd at first then thoroughly depressing.


Coconut Chocolate Piece

“Pictured: A metaphor for SCOTUS’ reasoning for fundraising caps on judicial elections.”




Bad News: Unlike Normal Politicians, SCOTUS Believes Judges are Special


Yes, you read that right. SCOTUS’ main argument for allowing caps on campaign spending comes in the same line of reasoning as why snowflakes are special.


Judges and Snowflakes

“Both of these things are unique in their own special way!”



As Chief Justice Roberts stated in SCOTUS’ opinion that a judge’s role differs from a politician’s in that “unlike a politician, who is expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of supporters, a judge in deciding cases may not follow the preferences of his supporters or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.”


Justice Roberts’ opinion was an interesting one, in that for this particular instance the Florida’s law only applied to a “narrow slice of free speech.” All the other forms of campaigning such as putting up billboards, buying television ads, discussing the issues in public are fine, but directly soliciting money would be going against a judge’s principles.


In short, unlike those fat cats in Washington – who would never straighten all those artistic abominations – in SCOTUS’ eyes, judges are held to a higher standard than politicians.


SCOTUS’ views on politicians are a lot like what you expect out of a Subway sandwich to taste like. Sure the ingredients might be stale and the bread might taste like parmesan-crusted socks, but technically when put together it does resemble something that is edible.


Subway Shop

“Congratulations politicians, you’ve become the political equivalent of a third-tier sandwich shop!”



While I would say they are putting judges on a hilariously high pedestal, Chief Justice Robert’s opinion does shed some disheartening light in regards to the Supreme Court and campaign finance reform. As in, don’t expect real change to come from SCOTUS.


It’s not that the justices believe campaign finance reform isn’t an important issue, it’s that they have zero faith and a very low opinion when it comes to politicians. Which if we’re being honest with ourselves is a pretty safe bet. Because Congress is terrible and that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact!


114th Congress

“Seriously, you guys are the worst.”



Also I’m not saying that SCOTUS made a bad decision. Because studies have shown that statistically there is a significant relationship between interest group donations and judicial decisions. However, most of the money that goes into elections comes from those raised by politicians. To use the “boys will be boys” argument when saying politicians will always try to raise money is kind of like catching your teenage son doing beer bong races and saying, “hey what do you think you’re doing(!?!), to do it correctly you have to tilt your head back like so.”


“That’s my boy!”



Because right now SCOTUS looks to have already made up their minds on politicians and how they raise campaign funds. The only problem, they aren’t going to be the ones cleaning up the morning after.


The Morning After

“It’s this, but politically only messier…”




(Photo Credits: Google Images)


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