Dear Model Code:
What are the rules for judges interested in politics? I want to be involved, but I don’t want to violate ethics guidelines or have my impartiality called into question.
Dear Judge Cautious:
Great question. Canon 4 states, “A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.”
Judges may register to vote as members of a political party, but they are prohibited from holding leadership positions in political organizations and making speeches on behalf of a political organization (4.1A1-2). Judges are also prohibited from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for any public office.
Of course, judges are free to campaign on their own behalf. They are also free to endorse or oppose candidates “for the same judicial office for which they are running” (Canon 4 Considerations).
Running for office is discussed separately in the Model Code. Canon 4, Rule 4.5, Section A states, “Upon becoming a candidate for a non-judicial elective office, a judge shall resign from judicial office, unless permitted by law to continue to hold judicial office.” However, if a judge is seeking a non-elected, non-judicial office, he/she is not required to resign from judicial office.
The goal of these rules is to have the judiciary perceived as impartial.
The Model Code of Judicial Conduct