U.S. Supreme Court rejected Nevada politician’s free speech claims to circumvent ethics laws

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected a Nevada city councilman’s claims that the state’s ethics laws on conflicts of interests violated his First Amendment right to free speech.

Sparks City Councilman Michael Carrigan. PHOTO SOURCE: City of Spark’s website.

In 2005, the Nevada Commission on Ethics censured Michael Carrigan, a Sparks city councilman, for failing to recuse himself from a vote to approve the “Lazy 8” hotel and casino project. At the time, Carrigan’s long-time friend and campaign manager, Carlos Vasquez, was hired by the developer, Red Haw Land Company, to lobby for the project’s approval.

Carrigan sued and argued that “the censure severely burdens First Amendment rights…A legislator’s vote is expressive in its own right. It is also the culmination of numerous forms of constitutionally protected political expression and association.”

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled against Carrigan and upheld Nevada’s ethics laws. “A legislator’s vote is the commitment of his apportioned share of the legislature’s power to the passage or defeat of a particular proposal. The legislative power thus committed is not personal to the legislator but belongs to the people; the legislator has no personal right to it,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the court’s opinion.

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