Tomorrow, January 20, 2015, the United States Supreme Court will have to balance the freedom of political speech against the compelling interest the public has in an independent judiciary. The Court will be deciding whether to strike down bans on the personal solicitation of campaign funds by judges. 30 of the 39 States with judicial elections have such bans. Four federal appeals courts have struck down such bans. Most of the American legal establishment and the ABA however support the bans.
Tennessee does not allow judges to personally solicit campaign contributions. A judge in Tennessee may however establish a campaign committee to solicit contributions. See Canon 4, Rules 4.1 and 4.4 of the Judicial Code of Conduct.
Bans on the personal solicitation of campaign funds by judges are perhaps most important in those States where appellate court judges, who interpret state laws and state constitutions, are elected. In Tennessee only trial court judges are elected. Allowing judges in those States where appeals court judges are elected to personally solicit campaign funds could infringe upon the independence of the judiciary. Appeals court judges could end up in the position of having to interpret laws for groups or individuals from which they personally solicited and received contributions. Decisions could be affected by the desire to receive further contributions in upcoming elections.
Opponents of the personal solicitation bans argue requiring that contributions be solicited through committees is just a facade because judges just end up telling the committee who to call for contributions. Why not just let the judges themselves make the calls?