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Court Nixes Judicial Speech Limits

June 27, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court on Thursday struck down limits on what some judicial candidates may tell voters, a landmark free speech ruling that could heat up court campaigns around the country.

Nearly 40 states elect some judges, and also restrict what they say or do while campaigning to promote an image of fairness and independence for courts.

The Supreme Court, in throwing out strict limits in Minnesota on a 5-4 vote, said the rules, while well-intended, impose an unconstitutional gag order.

Minnesota is one of nine states that had banned would-be judges from announcing views on ``disputed legal or political issues.″ Most other states keep candidates from divulging their positions on issues that might come before their court.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said ``there is an obvious tension″ between the state’s popular elections for judges and the limit ``which places most subjects of interest to the voters off limits.″

The case presented a tricky free-speech question at a time when races for state courts have become expensive and often partisan battles. This year 33 states are holding high court elections, potentially the most costly ever.

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