Florida Supreme Court allows judicial candidates to express political ideology in campaigns

by | Jun 24, 2024



The Florida Supreme Court ruled that judicial candidates can express their political ideology while campaigning but are still prohibited from indicating their partisan affiliation.


An opinion issued last week by the Florida Supreme Court allows for judicial candidates to declare political ideology while campaigning.

The Florida Supreme Court opined on June 20 that judicial candidates can express their political ideology while campaigning for a judicial appointment, though they are still prohibited from indicating their partisan affiliation.

The ruling was in response to the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s (JQC) recommendations for discipline regarding Judge Casey L. Woolsey.

During her 2022 campaign in St. John’s County, two potential ethics violations were brought into review by the JQC. Firstly, she approved a social media post that misleadingly indicated $100,000 raised in fundraising when $50,000 of that sum was a personal loan. Secondly, she left a voicemail for a voter, stating, “Hey, sorry I missed you.  My name is Casey Woolsey, and I am calling because I’m running for County Court Judge here in St. Johns County.  So, I just wanted to introduce myself and ask if you would consider voting for me when you’re filling in your mail-in ballots.  I am a conservative, and my website is. . . .”

The JQC ruled that both actions violated Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and decided that the social media post violated the principle that candidates may not misrepresent facts about themselves. The commission also found that her use of the self-identification as “conservative” in the voicemail violates the prohibition of candidates from engaging in “inappropriate political activity.” The JQC’s recommended a public reprimand.

The Commission believes that a public reprimand of Judge Woolsey will be sufficient to deter similar misconduct by Judge Woolsey in the future and will also serve as a reminder to future candidates for judicial office that they must protect the integrity of non-partisan judicial elections by refraining from using, advertising, or implying partisan endorsements,” the commission ruled last year.

The Florida Supreme Court’s review of the decision agrees with the JQC analysis regarding the social media misrepresentation; however, they have a different ruling regarding her voicemail comments, finding that using the word “conservative” does not indicate party affiliation,

“To describe oneself as a “conservative” does not signal bias (pro or con) toward anyone or on any issue,” the ruling said. “Nor does it reasonably call into doubt the fairness of any future judicial proceeding involving the candidate.”

In their explanation, the Justices stated that the term conservative can hold many meanings and connotations and does not strictly indicate a partisan bias. The Florida Supreme Court has previously ruled that “our judicial code does not prohibit a candidate from discussing his or her philosophical beliefs.”

The Code of Judicial Conduct indicates that upholding impartiality and maintaining nonpartisanship in judicial elections is of the utmost importance. Following this ruling, law scholars anticipate an exponential increase in ideological identification, influencing the messaging and campaigning strategies utilized in forthcoming judicial elections.

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