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October 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Election Season Brings Reminder of Political Prohibitions

Ah, the election season. Candidates are stumping, party fundraisers are soliciting, campaign posters are sprouting on lawns. Is it time to get out and campaign for your favorite candidate? The answer, for judges and most judicial employees, is no.

Partisan political activities are prohibited by Canon 7 of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, and Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees. Under both codes, a judge or judiciary employee should not act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization; make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a partisan political organization or candidate. Neither should they solicit funds for or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate or event.

The prohibition includes displaying a campaign picture, sign, sticker, badge or button for a partisan political candidate or organization or acting as a recorder, watcher, challenger, or similar officer at the polls in a partisan political election. Judiciary employees also may not authorize use of their name as an endorsement; initiate or circulate a nominating petition for a candidate in a partisan political election; or participate in a partisan political convention, caucus, rally, or fundraising activity.

Judges are further prohibited from attending political gatherings or purchasing tickets for political party dinners or other functions and should resign their judicial office when he or she becomes a candidate either in a primary or in a general election for any office.

Nonpartisan political activities also are prohibited for members of a judge’s personal staff and certain court unit heads. For them, the prohibitions concerning partisan political activities generally apply to nonpartisan political activities as well.

Of course, all judicial employees may register and vote in any primary or general election, and they may register as a member of a political party. Employees are also entitled to voice, although privately, their opinions regarding a political candidate or party. Participation is allowed in the nonpolitical activities of a civic, charitable, religious, professional, educational, cultural, avocational, social, fraternal, or recreational organization.

Judicial employees who are not covered by the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees should consult the codes and ethical standards applicable to them for guidance on participation in political activities. Questions concerning political activity may be directed to the AO’s Office of General Counsel or the Judicial Conference Committee on Codes of Conduct.