Sunday, December 10, 2017
A judicial election decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Montanans select their judges through nonpartisan popular elections. In an effort to keep those elections nonpartisan, Montana has restricted judicial-campaign speech. One of those restrictions is before us—a rule that prohibits candidates from seeking, accepting, or using political endorsements in their campaigns. Mark French, a judicial candidate who wishes to seek and use such endorsements, claims that Montana’s rule violates his First Amendment rights. Montana argues that the rule is narrowly tailored to ensuring the impartiality and independence of Montana’s judiciary. The district court upheld the statute, and we agree. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar, 135 S. Ct. 1656 (2015), and our decision in Wolfson v. Concannon, 811 F.3d 1176 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), we affirm the judgment.
In 2014, Mark French ran as a candidate for justice of the peace in Sanders County. The Sanders County Republican Central Committee endorsed French’s candidacy, and two prominent Republican officeholders were willing to consider doing so if French had asked. Afraid of violating Rule 4.1(A)(7), French refrained from seeking or using these endorsements in his campaign. He ultimately lost the election, but intends to run again in 2018. Although French would like to seek and use political endorsements during the
next election cycle, he understands that he cannot do so as long as Rule 4.1(A)(7) remains in place.
We hold that Montana has compelling interests in an impartial and independent judiciary. Rule 4.1(A)(7) is narrowly tailored to those interests because it strikes an appropriate balance between a candidate’s speech and Montana’s interest in an independent and impartial judiciary. French’s arguments to the contrary are foreclosed by the Supreme Court’s decision in Williams-Yulee and our decision in Wolfson.
Circuit Judge Bybee authored the opinion. (Mike Frisch)