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The Supreme Court is weighing whether candidates for elected judgeships have a constitutional right to make personal appeals for campaign cash.

The justices are hearing an appeal from Lanell Williams-Yulee of Tampa, Florida, who received a public reprimand for violating a Florida Bar rule that bans candidates for elected judgeships from personally soliciting donations.

The bar and many good government groups say the ban that is in place in Florida and 29 other states is important to preserve public confidence in an impartial judiciary.

A ruling for Williams-Yulee could free judicial candidates in those states to ask personally for campaign contributions.

In all, voters in 39 states elect local and state judges. In the federal judicial system, including the Supreme Court, judges are appointed to life terms and must be confirmed by the Senate.

The arguments are taking place five years after the Supreme Court freed corporations and labor unions to spend freely in federal elections. The court has generally been skeptical of limits on political campaigns, though slightly less so when it comes to those involving judges.

In 2002, the court struck down rules that were aimed at fostering impartiality among judges and barred candidates for elected judgeships from speaking out on controversial issues. But in 2009, the court held in a case from West Virginia that elected judges could be forced to step aside from ruling on cases when large campaign contributions from interested parties create the appearance of bias.

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