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Judges’ Presence on Social Media: Dangers of Posting, Liking, and Sharing

 |  October 10, 2022

By: Molly Codeanne (Journal of High Technology Law)

Parents always tell their children that what they say, post, like, and share on social media sticks around forever and can have unintended consequences down the line if you are not careful.  Judges must heed this advice and exercise heightened caution when engaging in social media as the courts have disqualified more than one judge from presiding over a case since April of 2022.  There is a fine line between posting in support of a popular and respected view and posting in a way that could lead to a finding of partiality or prejudice, especially in today’s heated political climate.  Most recently, Judge Josephine Buckner was disqualified from presiding over a series of cases against several protestors, in connection with the Breonna Taylor case.  Judges, who hold positions of power and privilege, must look forward to the future before posting and consider the consequences of how his or her actions on social media may be construed.

Josephine Buckner was scheduled to preside over cases against 26 protestors who had blocked an overpass during the Breonna Taylor protests.  Among other reasons, her removal stemmed from posts on Facebook that she had shared, or reposted, prior to becoming a judge on the Jefferson District Court of Kentucky.  An August 2020 post stated that, “today is a great day to arrest the cops who lied in getting a search warrant for Breonna Taylor’s home, the cops who killed Breonna Taylor and the cops who covered it all up.”  An additional shared post noted that the grand jury committed a “grave error.”

The extent to which judges may participate in social media is determined on a jurisdictional and state law basis, using ethical advisory opinions and various state rules.  However, judges must conform their behavior to the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides additional ethical guidelines.  First, Canon 1 states that judges “shall uphold and promote independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”  Second, Canon 2.2 provides that “a judge shall uphold and apply the law and shall perform all duties of judicial office fairly and impartially.”  Finally, Canon 2.4 states that “(A) a judge shall not be swayed by public clamor or fear of criticism, (B) a judge shall not permit family, social, political, financial or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgement, [and] (C) a judge shall not convey or permit others to convey the impression that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge.”  While these rules do not expressly state how judges are to conduct themselves on social media, they are directly related to judges’ use of social media…