Judicial code amended to allow discussion of political issues
NORTH CAROLINA–In May, the state Supreme Court in Raleigh amended the rules governing judicial conduct to delete a provision that barred judicial candidates from discussing disputed political or legal issues during the election.
The Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 7B(1)(c), prohibited candidates for judgeships from discussing disputed legal or political issues. The purpose of the provision, which effectively gagged candidates in political campaigns, was to preserve the appearance of fairness and impartiality among judicial candidates.
The change in the code was prompted by a lawsuit, filed in October 1996 in Greensboro federal court, by J. Mark Brooks, an unsuccessful candidate for a judgeship in Guilford County District Court. Brooks claimed that Canon 7B(1)(c) violated his First Amendment free speech rights.
Brooks announced at a voters’ forum that he opposed abortion. The state bar, which licenses and disciplines lawyers, admonished him in September for “professional misconduct,” asserting that his statement violated Canon 7B(1)(c).
U.S. District Chief Judge Frank Bullock in October issued a temporary restraining order against the state bar, enjoining it from enforcing Canon 7B(1)(c). Bullock wrote that “citizens have the right to be informed about the qualifications and views of candidates for judicial office,” and that a “broad and vague restriction on the information which candidates are permitted to impart is not in the best interest of the voters, the judiciary and the administration of justice.” (Brooks v. North Carolina State Bar; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Roger Neal Wiles, Jamestown)