Third Circuit Strikes Down Delaware Rule Requiring Judicial Candidates to Be Member of Republican or Democratic Parties

Opinion in Adams v. Delaware:

James R. Adams is a resident and member of the State
Bar of Delaware. For some time, he has expressed a desire to
be considered for a judicial position in that state. Following
the announcement of several judicial vacancies, Adams
considered applying but ultimately chose not to because the
announcement required that the candidate be a Republican.

Because Adams was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, he
concluded that any application he submitted would be futile.
Adams brings this suit against the Governor of the State
of Delaware to challenge the provision of the Delaware
Constitution that effectively limits service on state courts to
members of the Democratic and Republican parties. Adams
claims that under the Supreme Court’s precedent in Elrod v.
Burns and Branti v. Finkel, a provision that limits a judicial
candidate’s freedom to associate (or not to associate) with the
political party of his or her choice is unconstitutional. The
Governor argues that because judges are policymakers, there
are no constitutional restraints on his hiring decisions and he
should be free to choose candidates based on whether they
belong to one of the two major political parties in Delaware—
that is, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. We
disagree and conclude that judges are not policymakers
because whatever decisions judges make in any given case
relates to the case under review and not to partisan political
interests. We therefore conclude that the portions of
Delaware’s constitution that limit Adams’s ability to apply for
a judicial position while associating with the political party of
his choice violate his First Amendment rights, and we will
accordingly affirm in part and reverse in part the District
Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Adams.

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