Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C. August 21, 2013. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL. Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C. August 21, 2013. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/THE NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.

Starting on March 1, more than 1,000 employees of the federal judiciary will be subject to a policy that prohibits them from partisan political activity, including campaign contributions.

Judges and court employees have lived under similar rules for decades, but the new policy extends the restrictions to those who work at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Federal Judicial Center, both based at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C.

“This brings both the Administrative Office and the FJC in sync with what courts are already doing,” said David Sellers, spokesman for the Administrative Office. The new policy, Sellers added, underscores that “the judiciary was established as the non-political branch of the government”

The extension of the rules also fits the “One Judiciary” goal set by the AO’s director James Duff, aimed at promoting the “unity of purpose” among all parts of the federal judiciary. Employees will still be able to participate in nonpolitical activities with civic, charitable, religious, professional and other similar organizations.

The extension of the policy raises questions, said Alan Morrison, associate dean at The George Washington University Law School, an expert on campaign law. He said the restrictions imposed by the new policy are more severe than those pertaining to employees of the Justice Department and other federal agencies.

The ban on political activity is appropriate for judges, law clerks and others working directly in courts, he also said, but not for civil servants with little contact with the public. As far as he knows, no employees of the AO or FJC have been engaged in the kind of political activity that would justify a total ban.  

“Unlike all of the restrictions on campaign activity, this is not a statute,” Morrison added. “Congress should look at this.”