Unanimous 9th Circuit Panel, in Opinion by Judge Bybee, Upholds Montana Law Barring Judicial Candidates from Seeking, Accepting, or Using Political Party Endorsements

From the opinion:

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….

Only one restriction is at issue here. Rule 4.1(A)(7) of the Montana Code of Judicial Conduct provides: “[A] judge or judicial candidate shall not . . . seek, accept, or use endorsements from a political organization, or partisan or independent non-judicial office-holder or candidate . . . .” Mont. Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 4.1(A)(7). The Code defines a “political organization” as “a political party or other group sponsored by or affiliated with a political party or candidate, the principal purpose of which is to further the election or appointment of candidates for political office.”

French will seek further appellate review.

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