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Court Limits Judicial Campaign Solicitation for Gregory Wersal

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on April 05, 2012 4:06 PM

It's election year again and the timing is perfect for the Eighth Circuit's recent decision on the solicitation of campaign funds. In a 7-5 en banc decision, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals held in favor of a Minnesota rule that would limit the ability of judicial candidates to personally solicit campaign funds, reports Thomson Reuters News & Insight.

The Wersal v. Sexton case has been before the Eighth Circuit before, when a three-judge panel held that the Minnesota rules in question failed strict scrutiny. En banc, however, the Eighth Circuit reached a different conclusion.

The case involved a Minnesota Supreme Court candidate who invoked the First Amendment, arguing that the rule limited his ability to raise campaign funds. Gregory Wersal argued that the rule was crafted by the judges on the Minnesota Supreme Court to protect their own positions.

The Minnesota campaigning rule prohibits incumbent judges from holding events at law firms and soliciting donations. On the flip side, the rule forbids non-incumbents from conducting door-to-door solicitations or phone solicitations. Thus, claimed Wersal, the rule creates a disparity between incumbent judges running for re-election and new candidates.

"In Minnesota, we haven't had an incumbent judge defeated in election in over 50 years. They have shut down the entire system," said Wersal.

In addition to the prohibition against personal solicitation, Wersal challenged a rule preventing judicial candidates from endorsing political candidates.(At the time, Wersal was hoping to endorse Michelle Bachmann.)

The Eighth Circuit held that the endorsement clause serves the purpose of preserving a bench of judges who are unbiased and was too restrictive of speech on certain issues, as opposed to certain parties.

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