Ithaca, N.Y. — City Judge Seth Peacock has cited a U.S. Supreme Court case from Minnesota as justification for his public endorsement of a gubernatorial candidate two weeks ago — an endorsement that appears to violate state rules for judges and judge candidates.
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But the case he cited has nothing to do with endorsements. And Minnesota rules governing the conduct of judges and candidates for judge still prohibit exactly the kind of political activity that New York rules address.
Here is the background on the issue locally: Despite rules, Ithaca Judge endorses candidate for New York governor
Judge Peacock has declined to answer any questions from The Voice about the issue. But he was quoted in the Ithaca Journal saying this about it:
“In 2002 there was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Minnesota v. White, that dealt with similar types of restrictions on judicial candidates, and in that case the Supreme Court struck down these type of restrictions as violating the First Amendment.”
The case that Peacock refers to struck down the so-called “announce clause” in Minnesota as a violation of First Amendment rights to speech. Judges and judicial candidates were barred from “announcing” their positions on disputed legal and political issues.
As one report on the decision noted, “The Court concluded that the announce clause was not narrowly tailored to serve the state’s compelling interest in judicial impartiality…”
State rules banning political activity in races other than their own, and public endorsements of candidates, on the other hand, do seem to be narrowly tailored and to serve a state’s interest in an impartial judiciary.
The proof is that those rules are still on the books, even after the Minnesota case was decided in 2002.
The Minnesota rules still on the books are as clear and explicit as those governing New York state judges and judge candidates:
“A JUDGE OR CANDIDATE FOR JUDICIAL OFFICE SHALL NOT ENGAGE IN POLITICAL OR CAMPAIGN THAT IS INCONSISTENT WITH THE INDEPENDENCE, INTEGRITY, OR IMPARTIALITY OF THE JUDICIARY.
“…a judge or a judicial candidate shall not:
“(2) make speeches on behalf of a political organization;
“(3) publicly endorse or, except for the judge or candidate’s opponent, publicly oppose another candidate for public office;”
These Minnesota provisions are nearly identical to the prohibitions on the books in New York. Judge Peacock’s response to the Journal suggests that the Minnesota decision nullified those rules. The fact that the decision did not speak to endorsements and that the ban on endorsements remains on the books suggests otherwise.
The Voice has asked the judge for a response and will update accordingly.
Peacock, who lost the Democratic primary to attorney Rick Wallace in September, is running against Wallace on the Working Families Party line.
Appointed interim judge by Mayor Svante Myrick, Peacock will face off with Wallace on Nov. 4.