How Free Speech Applies to Judges

The Florida Supreme Court has rejected suggested court restrictions that would place some term limits on justices and restrict some speech. The original intention of the limits was to unify the court system and to improve communication from justices to the public. However, the higher court justices enacted the changes without a hearing. Lower court justices, including appellate court and circuit judges, spoke out against the changes. While three of the Supreme Court justices initially argued against the decision, others supported the changes.

One justice related past precedents that discouraged justices from spending their own funds without more oversight. Recently, two judges discussed the possible construction of a court house to the tune of almost $50 million. Critics have dubbed the building a “Taj Mahal” because of the luxury of the building. Critics raised an outcry against the lobbying involved in the building. The appellate court’s chief justice eventually stepped down from his duties in the aftermath of the ethics controversy.

The new rules mean that justices cannot publicly speak on some issues without clarifying the difference between personal and court opinions. The chief justice would be the main spokesperson for court-related matters.

A former president of the American Bar Association opposed to the communication limits cited concerns related to free speech as he spoke against the changes. However, another law that is still in place states that circuit judges must report to the Legislature regarding court-related changes in policies and procedures.

Another opponent compared the limits of judge’s speech to advising suspects that they have the right to remain silent. She added that the law would be difficult to monitor. Yet another justice said that term limits for chief judges are unnecessary as other justices can vote them out of office. They can also be removed through the process of a judicial inquiry or through impeachment. The constitutionality of the term limits on justice has also been questioned.