April 21, 1980
|FROM:||John Patrick, Assistant Director|
A number of questions have been raised this election year regarding magistrates engaging in political activity. Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Rule 501 of the S.C. Appellate Court Rules) which applies to all judicial officers including magistrates, strictly limits the permissible scope of a magistrate's political conduct.
Canon 7, in part, specifically provides:
"A judge should refrain from political activity inappropriate to his judicial office.
A. Political Conduct in General
1. A judge or a candidate for election to judicial office should not:
a. act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization;
b. make speeches for a political organization or candidate or publicly endorse a candidate for public office;
c. solicit funds for or pay an assessment or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, attend political gatherings, or purchase tickets for political party dinners, or other functions, except as authorized in subsection A(2).
2. A judge should resign his office when he becomes a candidate either in a party primary or in a general election for a non-judicial office, except that he may continue to hold his judicial office while being a candidate for election to or serving as a delegate in a state constitutional convention, if he is otherwise permitted by law to do so.
3. A judge should not engage in any other political activity except on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice."
Section B and Subsection A(2), which are not reproduced in this memo, relate to campaign conduct and political activity by judges whose offices are no longer applicable to magistrates since the S.C. Supreme Court held that elections for the selection of magistrates are unconstitutional infringements on the right to the Governor to appoint magistrates as required by Article V, Section 23, of the S.C. Constitution. (See State v. Pechilis, 273 S.C. 628, 258 S.E.2d 433 (1979)).
Magistrates, as judges whose offices are not filled by public election, are generally prohibited from engaging in political activity other than that activity involved in lobbying on behalf of measures to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice. If you have questions regarding the permissible scope of a magistrate's political activity, please do not hesitate to contact this office. If necessary, you may request an opinion on contemplated political activity from the Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct by writing to:
A. Camden Lewis, Esq., Chairman
Advisory Committee on Standards of Judicial Conduct
P.O. Box 11208
Columbia, SC 29211