Candidate free speech ruling does not affect Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct

July 10, 2002

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Minnesota judicial canon as a violation of free speech does not affect Mississippi's Code of Judicial Conduct, Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman told lawyers and judges attending the annual Mississippi Bar Association Convention in Sandestin, Fla. on Wednesday.

"We are untouched," Pittman said. "I'm very proud of the Mississippi Supreme Court in that we carefully drafted a Code of Judicial Conduct that was undisturbed by the Minnesota case."

The Mississippi Supreme Court adopted a revised Code of Judicial Conduct on April 4.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision issued June 27 in the case of Republican Party of Minnesota v. White prompted concerns about possible impact on the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct. But Pittman said a review of the decision in the Minnesota case concluded that it will not require changes in Mississippi's code.

At issue in the Minnesota decision was the so-called "announce clause" which had prohibited judges from announcing views on disputed legal or political issues. The language had been part of the American Bar Association's 1972 Model Code of Judicial Conduct. The ABA removed the language in its 1990 revision.

The Mississippi Supreme Court removed the "announce clause" language when it revised the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct in April.

Candidates are permitted to announce a position on issues if they choose.

Candidates' freedom to discuss issues will make more informed voters, Pittman said. Candidates "can better inform the voters of their philosophical views....The better informed the voter is, the better courts we will have and the better judges we will have."

However, Pittman said, candidates can't make pledges or promises.

Canon 5 of the Mississippi Code of Judicial Conduct says candidates shall not:

(i) make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office;

(ii) make statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.

The revised Code of Judicial Conduct also set up a five-member Special Committee on Judicial Election Campaign Intervention. The special committee will investigate allegations of campaign misconduct. Pittman said the Minnesota decision does not affect the operation of the special committee.