- Hans von Spakovsky, The Heritage Foundation
If we accept the premise that government, and government power, is growing, then the stakes for elective office have never been higher. With the levers of power at stake, are we seeing an increase in the use of the criminal justice system to attack legitimate political activity? Or are we perhaps seeing the proper policing of increased fraud and abuse by those in the political sphere? In a media climate in which a mere investigation can be fatal to a political campaign or career, what actions are political and what actions are criminal, and who should decide?
Criminal Law: Free Speech, Anti-Corruption, and the Criminalization of Government Affairs
12:00 noon – 2:15 p.m.
The Mayflower Hotel
On Thursday July 16, 2015, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued an opinion and order ending the long running “John Doe” investigation into potential violations of Wisconsin campaign finance law and whether candidates and outside groups illegally “coordinated” spending. In mid-June of 2015, a young political consultant was sentenced to nearly two years in federal prison for illegally coordinating between a congressional campaign and a Super PAC. The U.S. Department of Justice also recently announced it will look carefully at allegations of coordination between candidate and outside groups. What does all of this mean? Where is the law heading on this? Are civil and criminal investigations into campaign activity going to be increasing?
On January 20, 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. This case asks whether Florida’s rule of judicial conduct that prohibits candidates for judicial office from personally soliciting campaign funds violates the First Amendment.
In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court held by a vote of 5-4 that Florida's rule does not violate the First Amendment. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida was affirmed. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined the Chief Justice’s opinion in full and Justice Ginsburg joined all except Part II. Justice Breyer filed a concurring opinion. Justice Ginsburg filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, which Justice Breyer joined as to Part II. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Thomas joined. Justices Kennedy and Alito also filed dissenting opinions.
To discuss the case, we have Prof. Brian T. Fitzpatrick, a Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University Law School and Erik Jaffe, who is a sole practitioner at Erik S. Jaffe, PC.
On April 29, the United States Supreme Court issued a 5-4 opinion in Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar allowing states to bar candidates for judgeships from personally asking for campaign donations. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts noted the importance of “public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary,” concluding that “States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians.” In dissent, Justice Scalia noted that the majority disregarded “one settled First Amendment principle after another” to reach its result.