Judges sometimes ask judicial ethics advisory committees whether they can participate in marches, vigils, and similar issue-related community events. This is the advice committees have provided:
- Before attending a march, rally, or protest, judges must assume their participation will be scrutinized, publicized, and depicted in reports of the event, including in press coverage or on social media; and consider whether participation “would appear to a reasonable person” to undermine the judge’s “independence, integrity, or impartiality or demean the judicial office,” which is an objective standard. Judges should examine the official title of an event, its stated mission, its sponsors, and its organizers. If a judge participates in a march, rally, or protest focused on social, legal, or political issues that may become the subject of litigation or that is sponsored or organized by individuals or entities who regularly appear in state court proceedings, a reasonable person may have cause to question the judge’s independence and impartiality when making decisions about those issues, individuals, or entities in subsequent cases. Judges must also scrupulously avoid any extra-judicial activity tied to an organization that practices invidious discrimination. Judges should not participate in a march, rally, or protest if such participation could reasonably be viewed as supporting or opposing a candidate for public office or as speaking publicly on behalf of a political organization. Even if a march, rally, or protest relates to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, there are potential ethical pitfalls. Even assuming attendance at a march, rally, or protest is appropriate in the first instance, a judge must remain vigilant and be prepared to leave if the event proves problematic. Unless an event is directly related to the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice, judges should refrain from publicizing their affiliation with the judicial branch when participating. Arizona Advisory Opinion 2018-6..
- A judicial officer may not participate in “A Silent March of Black Female Attorneys of Connecticut” by meeting marchers on the steps of the Supreme Court and reading part of the state constitution even if he is not introduced, does not identify himself by name or title, does not wear a robe, does not permit his name or title to be used in advertising, does not interpret the constitutional provision, and does not speak with the media. Connecticut Informal Opinion 2020-3.
- A judge may attend ceremonies held by law enforcement agencies to honor officers killed in the line of duty. Florida Advisory Opinion 1992-34.
- A judge may attend a Mothers Against Drunk Driving candlelight vigil if it is not a fund-raising event and the judge’s attendance would not be announced. Florida Advisory Opinion 1995-41.
- A judge may participate in a “March for Science” if it is centered on matters that are unlikely to come before the court. To determine whether to participate in an issue-related gathering, a judge should thoughtfully examine whether the issues might be likely to come before the court or adversely impact judicial independence or the appearance of impropriety or the appearance of impropriety or bias. Illinois Advisory Opinion 2019-1.
- A judge may not participate in the Women’s March on Washington scheduled for the day after the presidential Inauguration. Massachusetts Letter Opinion 2016-10.
- Judges may not participate in a candlelight vigil celebrating the one millionth child served by CASA programs across the country even if the vigil is non-partisan and not connected with fund-raising. New Jersey Advisory Opinion 2008-1.
- A judge must not participate in a high-profile, apparently non-partisan march to recognize the importance of scientific endeavors and rational thought in society unless she determines that the march is not co-sponsored by or affiliated with any political organization and does not support or oppose any political party or candidate for election and her participation will not involve her in impermissible political activity or insert her unnecessarily into public controversy. In the period leading up to the event, the judge must monitor the march’s agenda and publicly reported affiliations and sponsorships. A judge may not participate in a local political rally, march, or demonstration sponsored by grassroots organizations, even if she would refrain from speaking. New York Advisory Opinion 2017-38.
- A judge may not appear at a candlelight vigil for those affected by domestic violence. New York Advisory Opinion 2010-59.
- A family court judge should not attend a tree planting and candlelight vigil on behalf of victims of crime in the judge’s county. New York Advisory Opinion 2004-91.
- A judge may attend “A Day of Remembrance” ceremony to honor victims of domestic violence but should take care that his mannerisms, actions, or speech do not cast doubt on his impartiality and should not act as an advocate or in any way indicate a predisposition as to how he might rule in a domestic violence case. Washington Advisory Opinion 1996-16.
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