by Max Brantley
The Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee has declined to say that a federal court ruling has altered the state ethical rule that says judges may not publicly endorse or oppose candidates for political office.
Judge Marion Humphrey of Little Rock had asked the committee whether the case Republican Party of Minnesota vs. White had made such comments permissible. That ruling held that several Minnesota ethical rules were unconstitutional because they abridged judges' free speech right.
The Advisory Committee, in a letter written by Howard Brill, the UA Law School dean, said the committee wouldn't engage in a constitutional interpretation. "It is not our role to hold that a provision of the code is unconstitutional. Nor is it our role to rewrite the Code. That task rests with the judiciary."
The speech right of judges has been much in the news. Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen has come under fire for some of his public pronouncements and faces an investigation by the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission. Another judge, Maumelle District Judge Roger Harrod, a candidate for Supreme Court, has been talking publicly about his disapproval of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Lake View case, which is still an active case. So far, none of the voices critical of Griffen (who carefully avoids talking about pending cases) has uttered criticism of Harrod.