WISCONSINREPORT.COM (03/03/08) - A Wisconsin judge is challenging a state provision that does not allow judges to be members of the political party of his or her choice. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert has filed a constitutional challenge in federal court in Madison against a Wisconsin regulation barring judges from belonging to political parties. Judges are elected in Wisconsin on a non-partisan basis, and a provision of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits individuals from belonging to a political party while serving as a judge or running for judicial office.
The suit claims that this provision violates Siefert’s First Amendment right to join the Democratic party.
Also challenged are judicial canons prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions, and from making endorsements. Similar provisions have been held unconstitutional previously by other federal courts.
According to attorney James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel for the plaintiffs, “these canons are in direct conflict with federal court precedent and are inconsistent with the spirit of the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that said judicial candidates have full First Amendment protection for their political speech."
"Stating a party preference is just a shorthand for announcing your political views,” attorney James Bopp, Junior pointed out.
The case is Siefert v. Alexander, et al., 3:08-cv-126. The complaint and memorandum supporting the motion for preliminary injunction are available in PDF format online at the James Madison Center’s website, www.jamesmadisoncenter.org, under the “Judicial Accountability Project” link on Friday, February 29, 2008.
Bopp, an expert in campaign regulations, successfully argued a case last year challenging separate provisions of Wisconsin’s Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as the 2002 U.S. Supreme Court case Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002), which forms the basis for this action.
James Bopp, Jr. has a national federal and state election law practice. He is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and former Co-Chairman of the Election Law Subcommittee of the Federalist Society.