Amicus Project

United States Supreme Court

WILLIAMS-YULEE v. FLORIDA BAR

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part II.

Our Founders vested authority to appoint federal judges in the President, with the advice and consent of the Senate, and entrusted those judges to hold their offices during good behavior. The Constitution permits States to make a different choice, and most of them have done so. In 39 States, voters elect trial or appellate judges at the polls. In an effort to preserve public confidence in the integrity of their judiciaries, many of those States prohibit judges and judicial candidates from personally soliciting funds for their campaigns.

We must decide whether the First Amendment permits such restrictions on speech.

We hold that it does. Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot. And a State’s decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money. We affirm the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court.

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CAPERTON v. A. T. MASSEY COAL COMPANY, INC.

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed a trial court judgment, which had entered a jury verdict of $50 million. Five justices heard the case, and the vote to reverse was 3 to 2. The question presented is whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated when one of the justices in the majority denied a recusal motion. The basis for the motion was that the justice had received campaign contributions in an extraordinary amount from, and through the efforts of, the board chairman and principal officer of the corporation found liable for the damages.

Under our precedents there are objective standards that require recusal when “the probability of actual bias on the part of the judge or decisionmaker is too high to be constitutionally tolerable.” Withrow v. Larkin, 421 U. S. 35, 47 (1975). Applying those precedents, we find that, in all the circumstances of this case, due process requires recusal.

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Read the Modern Courts Amicus Brief (pdf)


NYS Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

The State of New York requires that political parties select their nominees for Supreme Court Justice at a convention of delegates chosen by party members in a primary election. We consider whether this electoral system violates the First Amendment rights of prospective party candidates.

New York State has thrice (in 1846, 1911, and 1921) displayed a willingness to reconsider its method of select­ ing Supreme Court Justices. If it wishes to return to the primary system that it discarded in 1921, it is free to do so; but the First Amendment does not compel that. We reverse the Second Circuit’s contrary judgment.

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Read the Modern Courts Amicus Brief (pdf)


New York Court of Appeals

HURRELL HARRING v. STATE of New York

Individuals who, as indigent criminal defendants, were assigned public defenders in various criminal prosecutions brought putative class action against State, alleging that public defense system was deficient and presented unacceptable risk that indigent defendants were being denied constitutional right to counsel. The Supreme Court, Albany County, Eugene P. Devine, J., denied State’s motions to dismiss, and State appealed. The Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 66 A.D.3d 84, 883 N.Y.S.2d 349, reversed. Individuals appealed as of right.

Holdings: The Court of Appeals, Lippman, C.J., held that:

(1) individuals stated cognizable claim for constructive denial of their Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and
(2) arraignment was critical stage of criminal proceeding for purposes of right to counsel, even if guilty plea was not elicited at arraignment.

Read the New York Court of Appeals Decision (pdf)

Read the Modern Courts Amicus Brief (pdf)

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