WASHINGTON, June 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court Monday ruled unanimously that Nevada's ethics law is not unconstitutionally broad -- giving a boost to all state ethics laws.
The ruling came in the case of Michael Carrigan, an elected local official in Sparks, Nev.
Nevada's Ethics in Government Law requires public officials to refrain from voting on, or advocating the passage or rejection of a matter, when "a reasonable person" believes the matter would materially affect the official.
The ban extends to any situation in which the matter would affect someone in the official's household, a relative or any "similar" category.
Carrigan voted to approve a hotel and casino proposed by a company that used his longtime friend and campaign manager as a paid consultant, court records said.
The Nevada Commission on Ethics concluded that Carrigan had a conflict of interest and censured him for not abstaining from the vote. Carrigan asked for state court review. A state judge denied his petition, but the Nevada Supreme Court reversed, agreeing with Carrigan that the law violated the free speech provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the state high court in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia.
Scalia noted that "recusals" -- withdrawing from considering a matter when there might be a conflict of interest -- date back to the founding of the nation. "The notion that Nevada's recusal rules violate legislators' First Amendment rights is also inconsistent with longstanding traditions in the states, most of which have some type of recusal law. ...
"Restrictions on legislators' voting are not restrictions on legislators' protected speech. 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. He casts his vote 'as trustee for his constituents, not as a prerogative of personal power,'" Scalia said, citing Supreme Court precedent. "Moreover, voting is not a symbolic action, and the fact that it is the product of a deeply held or highly unpopular personal belief does not transform it into First Amendment speech."
The eight other justices either signed on to Scalia's opinion or agreed with the judgment.