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State of Kentucky

Judicial Campaigns and Elections: Kentucky

Campaign Conduct

According to Canon 5 of Kentucky's code of judicial conduct, judicial candidates shall not:
  • Intentionally or recklessly make statements that a reasonable person would perceive as committing them to rule a certain way on cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the court.

  • Misrepresent any candidate's identity, qualifications, present position, or other facts.

  • Identify themselves as members of a political party in any form of advertising or when speaking to a gathering. Candidates may only identify themselves as members of a particular political party in answer to a direct question.

  • Solicit campaign funds. However, they may establish campaign committees to secure and manage the expenditure of campaign funds and to obtain public statements of support. Campaign committees may not solicit funds earlier than 180 days before the primary election or after the general election.

In 1991, the Kentucky Supreme Court struck down as violative of the First Amendment a provision of the code of judicial conduct that barred judicial candidates from announcing their views on "disputed legal or political issues." According to the court, the provision was overly broad since it "prohibit[ed] dialogue on virtually every issue that would be of interest to the voting public." J.C.J.D. v. R.J.C.R., 803 S.W.2d 953 (Ky. 1991). The supreme court responded by adopting the "commit" clause, which was upheld by the Kentucky high court in 1994. Deters v. Judicial Retirement and Removal Board, 873 S.W.2d 200 (Ky. 1994).

In 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky held that the Kentucky version of the commit clause was constitutional, but that the personal solicitation clause and restrictions on partisan activity by judges and judicial candidates were unconstitutional. Carey v. Wolnitzek, Opinion and order (October 15, 2008). On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the holding that the solicitation clause and the party affiliation clause were unconstitutional; it also held that the commits clause was constitutional as it applies to cases and controversies but that its application to issues was materially ambiguous. (6th Cir. July 13, 2010).