Ethics Rules Loosened on Judicial Elections

PRESS RELEASE from Tennessee’s Administrative Office of the Courts, Dec. 2, 2015:

The Tennessee Supreme Court has amended the provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct regarding judges and judicial candidates’ election campaign conduct.

The recent changes stem from suggestions made by a joint committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference and the Tennessee Trial Judges Association, which presented to Chief Justice Sharon Lee its “Report to the Tennessee Judicial Conference on Revisions to the Tennessee Code of Judicial Conduct.”

The Supreme Court made significant revisions to the Code of Judicial Conduct in 2012. The findings in the judges’ report were based on their experience since the revised Code was adopted. Although the report recommended a number of amendments, the Supreme Court did not adopt all of the proposed changes. The Supreme Court thanked the members of the joint committee for their work and expressed its appreciation for the committee’s thoughtful presentation of the issues raised.

The Code of Judicial Conduct continues to impose significant limitations on political activities by judges and judicial candidates.

Under the amended Code, judges and judicial candidates are now permitted to:

  • Endorse or oppose judges or judicial candidates in a partisan, nonpartisan, or retention election for judicial office.
  • Speak on behalf of his or her candidacy through any medium, including but not limited to advertisements, websites, or other campaign literature.
  • Seek, accept, or use endorsements from any person or organization.
  • Publicly endorse or oppose judges or judicial candidates in a partisan, nonpartisan, or retention election for any judicial office.
  • Group themselves into slates or other alliances to conduct their campaigns more effectively, including by establishing joint campaign committees.
  • Solicit funds for a political organization or candidate for public office, only from a member of the judge’s family or a member of the judicial candidate’s family.
  • Begin some campaign activities up to one year prior to the election.

See the details in the order here.