Summary of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White
Citation: 536 U.S. 765
Relevant Facts: All state judges are selected via popular election in Minnesota per the state constitution. A clause (announcement) prevents candidates from proclaiming their views on disputed legal or political issues. In 1998, Gregory Wersal ran for the Minnesota Supreme Court and filed suit against the state, asserting that the announcement clause violated his First Amendment rights to free expression and speech. The District Court disagreed with his assertion and found that his rights had not been violated. The Court of Appeals also affirmed this decision. As a result, the case was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issues: The legal question presented was whether the Minnesota Constitution’s clause that prohibited judicial candidates from announcing their views on controversial legal and political issues constituted a violation of the First Amendment rights of Wersal and other other candidates.
Holding: The Supreme Court held that the clause did in fact violate the First Amendment.
Reasoning: The majority opinion, as delivered by Associate Justice Scalia asserted that the clause violated the First Amendment, in great part because it had nothing to do with ensuring the state judiciary’s impartiality, as the state had argued. Additionally, the Court found that, “There is an obvious tension between the article of Minnesota’s popularly approved Constitution which provides that judges shall be elected, and the Minnesota Supreme Court’s announce clause which places most subjects of interest to the voters off limits.”
Conclusion: This case was significant because the Court found that while judges and judicial candidates ought to be impartial, part of figuring out whether they are worthy of office, is hearing where they stand on controversial issues and still entrusting them with making the most legally sound decisions if and when elected. In order to accomplish that balance, judicial candidates’ cannot have the free speech rights limited.