Opinion  CJE Opinion No. 2016-10

Date: 12/09/2016
Organization: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Letter Opinion of the Committee on Judicial Ethics

Table of Contents

Political Activity: Participating in Women's March on Washington

You have inquired whether the Code of Judicial Conduct permits you to participate in the Women's March on Washington scheduled for January 21, 2017.

Rule 4.1 is pertinent to your inquiry. Rule 4.1(A) requires a judge to refrain from numerous political and campaign activities. Rule 4.1(A)(5) prohibits a judge's attendance at events intended to gather support for or against a political organization or candidate. Comment [1] to Rule 4.1 explains that the rule's restrictions are necessary because "public confidence in the judiciary is eroded if judges are perceived to be subject to political influence or give the impression of favoring the interests of a political organization or candidate." Rule 4.1(B) affirms the ability of judges to act to protect the fundamental values of our legal system, including that of equal justice for all. To this end, Rule 4.1(B) states that a judge "may engage in activity in support or on behalf of" measures to improve the law, the legal system, or the administration of justice.

The Women's March is scheduled to take place the day after the Presidential Inauguration. Though the organizers emphasize that the Women's March is intended to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone who supports women's rights, the political overtones are unmistakable. The organizers reference the "rhetoric of the past election cycle" that has "insulted, demonized, and threatened . . . immigrants of all statuses, Muslims and those of diverse religious faiths, people who identify as LGBTQIA, Native people, Black and Brown people, people with disabilities, [and] survivors of sexual assault."(1) A primary purpose of the Women's March is to "send a bold message to [the] new administration on their first day in office."

We understand that you wish to participate in the Women's March to stand up against misogyny, racism, and other biases and bigotries that threaten the rule of law. The public and the media are, however, likely to focus on the timing of the event and the organizers' announced desire to "send a message" to the new President on his first day in office. We believe that a reasonable person would perceive the Women's March as a political protest, and the Code therefore prohibits your participation.

(1) Statement of National Organizers, retrieved from www.womensmarch.com on December 7, 2016.

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