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State of Georgia

Judicial Campaigns and Elections: Georgia

Campaign Oversight

In order to "stem the rash of unfair and improper campaign tactics" reported to the judicial qualifications commission in the 1992 and 1996 election campaigns, the commission made the provisions of Canon 7 binding, changing the words "should" and "should not" to "shall" and "shall not." The commission also adopted rules making candidates responsible for their campaign materials and requiring the appointment in every general election year of a campaign oversight committee. The committee for ethical judicial campaigns distributes to all candidates copies of Canon 7 and the rule establishing the special committee, summaries of relevant opinions of the judicial qualifications commission, and an acknowledgment form that candidates must return, certifying that they have read and understood the materials and that they agree to be bound by them. The committee also investigates alleged violations of Canon 7 and, if warranted, issues a confidential cease-and-desist request. If the violation persists, the committee may issue a public statement and/or refer the matter to the judicial qualifications commission for appropriate action.

During the 1998 election, a challenger to an incumbent supreme court justice was cited by the special committee on judicial election campaign intervention for violating the provision of the code of judicial conduct that bars candidates from making misleading statements. The candidate responded by challenging the constitutionality of the rule against misleading campaign speech, the rule prohibiting judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign funds and public endorsements, and the rule allowing the special committee to issue public statements. The federal district court struck down the misleading statements provision but upheld the other two provisions. Weaver v. Bonner, 114 F.Supp.2d 1337 (N.D. Ga. 2000). On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down all three provisions as violating the First Amendment. 309 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2002). According to the court, "the distinction between judicial elections and other types of elections has been greatly exaggerated, and we do not believe that the distinction, if there truly is one, justifies greater restriction on speech during judicial campaigns than during other types of campaigns." Id., at 1321. In early 2003, the court denied a request for an en banc rehearing. The Florida Supreme Court made the necessary amendments to the code of judicial conduct in 2004.