Supreme Court summarily upholds caps on contributions to political parties; Gorsuch would hear case

U.S. Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday summarily affirmed a decision upholding limits on direct contributions to political parties.

Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas indicated (PDF) they would have set the case for oral argument, rather than decide it summarily. The Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Courthouse News Service and the Election Law Blog have stories.

The summary affirmance upholds a decision by a special three-judge panel of the federal court in Washington, D.C.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Gorsuch’s announcement of his vote to hear the case “is his first and most significant decision since joining the court last month, and it puts him squarely on the side of conservatives and Republican lawyers who believe that limits on political money are unconstitutional.”

The court could have accepted the case and used it to further deregulate campaign financing, according to the Election Law Blog. The blog author, University of California at Irvine law professor Rick Hasen, says the justices may have declined to set the case for oral argument because they have no appetite to revisit the issue of campaign financing, and because they may “want to save their capital in ruling on other high profile cases coming down the line.”

Hasen sees Gorsuch’s announcement of his vote to hear the case as an indication that he could be as conservative as Thomas in political contribution cases. Thomas believes all campaign finance limits should be subject to strict scrutiny and are likely unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that the restriction was different from limits on spending that directly supports candidates and parties.

Lawyer James Bopp Jr. had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to accept the new case and strike down limits on contributions to political parties. Arguing on behalf of the Republican Party of Louisiana, Bopp said it was “a grave inequity” to allow super PACs to accept large sums of independent contributions without limits, while political parties have to abide by limits on direct contributions.

The case is Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC.

Hat tip to How Appealing.


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