Are Judicial Candidates Politicians?

“Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot” Chief Justice Roberts declared in Williams-Yulee v. Florida State Bar, 575 U.S. _, 135 S. Ct. 1656 (2015). I, respectfully, disagree.

I have been a candidate for office three times. Two for mayor in a non-partisan race, which I won a contested race against the incumbent in 2015 and was re-elected without an opponent in 2019; and the third for state representative in 2016, in which I ran uncontested in the primary but eventually lost in the general election. In the contested campaigns I had to raise money, purchase campaign materials, walk in parades, make public appearances, and did a lot of walking door-to-door.

As an attorney I am often in court making arguments to judges and when I appear before a judge “running” for judge, I believe each of them to be a political candidate.

In Williams-Yulee, Florida canons of judicial conduct were interpreted. Ohio has similar canons of judicial conduct. Ohio’s general election for judges is non-partisan (party is not indicated on the ballot) but the candidates must go through a partisan primary to get on the general election ballot.

Over the years, several of my friends and colleagues have run for judge (and many of them won and are now judges). During their judicial campaigns, they raised money, purchased materials, and walked in parades, made public appearances, and were out meeting voters. Each is doing the exact same “campaigning” that I do as a politician. And yet the United States Supreme Court deems them not to be politicians.

Confusing? You bet. Are there other options for electing judges rather than an election every 6 years? Yes – but that’s for a future post. For now, if you want to read more on judicial politics and Williams-Yulee, here is a 2015 article from Erwin Chemerinsky (a legal rock-star in constitutional law):