Inaugural events

A judge may attend the inauguration of elected public officials.  As the South Carolina advisory committee explained, swearing-in ceremonies are not political activities, but “governmental activities in which every citizen regardless of their official position should be allowed to participate.”

By attending the inauguration ceremonies … a judge simply participates as a spectator to a time honored tradition of government that symbolizes and celebrates the orderly and legal transition of elected officials.  Also, by attending as a spectator the judge is merely showing respect, in a dignified manner, for a branch of government other than his own, which thus avoids harming the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary and avoids any appearance of impropriety.

South Carolina Advisory Opinion 2-1995.  Accord Colorado Advisory Opinion 2006-10 (gubernatorial inauguration); Florida Advisory Opinion 1992-41 (presidential inauguration); New York Advisory Opinion 1997-145 (municipal induction ceremony).

A judge may attend an inaugural ball or similar event if any fee charged covers only the costs of the event or goes to a charity, but a judge may not attend if the event is a fund-raiser for a political candiate or party.  For example, the Colorado advisory committee stated that a judge may attend a dinner, concert, and whistle-stop tour following a gubernatorial inauguration when tickets may be purchased by any interested citizen for a nominal fee that covers the costs of the event only and no part of which will go to a political party.  Colorado Advisory Opinion 2006-10.  The committee cautioned that the judge may not engage in fund-raising to pay for attending the event and should not use his attendance as an opportunity to seek elevation to a higher bench, should attend as any member of the public without being seated on the dais or in any position that suggests a particular allegiance with the governor, and should be identified by name without reference to his judicial title to the extent possible.  See also Connecticut Advisory Opinion 2010-36 (a judge may, along with a guest, attend at no cost a gubernatorial inaugural ball and dinner that will raise funds to support and maintain an armory); Florida Advisory Opinion 1992-41 (a judge may attend a presidential inaugural ball provided no funds are paid to a political organization and attendance is not limited to members of one party); New York Advisory Opinion 1997-145 (a judge may not attend a ball following the swearing-in ceremony for local officials when the $250 ticket price will be used to pay campaign debts incurred by the one of the officials); New York Advisory Opinion 1998-12 (a judge may attend an inaugural ball for a mayor if any net proceeds will go to a charitable organization and the event is not a political gathering); New York Advisory Opinion 2008-213 (a judge may attend the presidential inauguration but not an inaugural ball hosted by a state political delegation, a political organization, or a political interest group unless the judge is currently a candidate); Pennsylvania Informal Advisory Opinion 12/17/01 (a judge may attend an elected official’s inaugural ball if it is a social event, not a partisan event or a fund-raiser); Pennsylvania Informal Advisory Opinion 1/5/04 (a judge may attend the inaugural ball for county commissioners but cannot attend the fund-raiser that precedes the ball); South Carolina Advisory Opinion 2-1995 (a judge may attend an inaugural ball if any fee covers only the cost and will not be retained by any political party).  Cf., Arkansas Advisory Opinion 1992-5 (a judge who holds an office filled by election may purchase tickets to and attend an inaugural ball for the President regardless whether the ball is considered a political gathering and regardless whether the admission charge is used to defray the costs of the event, is given to a charitable organization, or is used to support Democratic Party activities).

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