For writing a letter to the editor that supported the re-election of a Supreme Court justice, an appellate court judge was reprimanded Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court.
The ruling marked the second time the state's highest court has discarded the argument that judges have a First Amendment right to speak out on such issues.
Last year, the court rejected 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Hugh M. Glickstein's suit against the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The suit challenged the constitutionality of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, which forbid judges from endorsing other political candidates.
The path to Thursday's reprimand began in 1990, when then-Chief Justice Leander Shaw was seeking re-election in the face of strenuous opposition from abortion rights opponents.
Glickstein attended a reception for Shaw and asked the justice if he would like Glickstein to write a letter to the editor supporting his candidacy. Shaw said yes, and Glickstein, on court stationery, wrote the letter, obtaining Shaw's approval before it was mailed to several newspapers.
Glickstein said he was unaware of the canon that forbids such activity. He said he believed he had a First Amendment right to speak out.
Shaw won re-election, and a complaint against Glickstein was filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission after a South Florida newspaper noted the existence of the letters.
The court, sitting without Shaw, voted 4-2 to reprimand Glickstein.
Chief Justice Rosemary Barkett and Justice Gerald Kogan dissented. Justice Major Harding agreed with the majority, but he called it a minimal transgression that should have been handled administratively.
Barkett questioned whether a formal reprimand was warranted for "such a technical violation."
Kogan agreed that Glickstein should not have written the letter because judges should maintain "a certain aloofness from the rough and tumble of an electoral contest."
But Kogan saw no compelling state interest in prohibiting judges from making remarks about political candidates.
"The right of free speech is at its zenith in the arena of political commentary," Kogan said. "And the state must identify a compelling state interest before it may restrict that speech."
But the majority disagreed.
"Neither honest motives nor well-intentioned conduct, however, excuse less than strict compliance with the Code of Judicial Conduct," the court said. "Judges hold a unique position in society, and with that position comes the unique power and responsibility of administering justice.
"A judge's neutrality in everything he or she does is necessary to sustain the public's confidence in individual judges and in the judicial system as a whole."