Six Montana justices file amicus brief defending ban on acceptance of partisan endorsements

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All but one of Montana’s Supreme Court justices have filed an amicus brief defending a rule that bars judicial candidates from seeking or accepting partisan endorsements.

Six justices filed the brief (PDF) in Montana federal court in a suit filed by a candidate for justice of the peace, the Helena Independent Record reports. The candidate, Mark French, is running against an incumbent who found him guilty of failing to wear his seat belt. French plans to ask for the endorsement of a county Republican committee that is chaired by his wife, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

The rule, adopted in 2008 as part of Montana’s judicial conduct code, says judicial candidates can’t “seek, accept or use endorsements from a political organization, or partisan or independent non-judicial officeholder or candidate.” Judicial elections in the state are nonpartisan.

French told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that the rule “inhibits freedom of speech and sneaks up on the freedom of assembly.”

The justices’ brief seeks to distinguish a 2012 decision by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down a Montana law barring political parties from endorsing judicial candidates.

“We urge this court to acknowledge that regardless of what a political organization is allowed to do, a candidate for judicial office may and should be held to a standard commensurate with the dignity, gravity and optimal function of judicial office,” the amicus brief says.

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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