Monday, October 15, 2012

Developments in Montana Campaign Contribution Case

Recall that District Judge Charles C. Lovell (Montana) ruled earlier this month in Lair v. Murry that Montana's low campaign contribution limits for individuals and political parties violated the First Amendment and permanently enjoined the state from enforcing those limits.  Judge Lovell wrote that he'd issue more detailed findings and conclusions soon.  (He did; see below.)

But late last week, before Judge Lovell issued his follow-up, the Ninth Circuit issued a temporary stay of Judge Lovell's ruling, putting the limits back into place pending further action by the Ninth Circuit.  The three-judge panel wrote that Judge Lovell's original ruling contained no findings and conclusions, and thus "the court is severely constrained in its consideration of the underlying issues raised in the emergency motion [for a temporary stay], including whether, in light of Randall v. Sorrell . . . our decision in Montana Right to Life Ass'n v. Eddleman . . . must be revisited."

A little background.  The Ninth Circuit previously upheld Montana's low limits against a First Amendment challenge in Montana Right to Life Ass'n in 2003.  The Ninth Circuit in Montana Right to Life Ass'n relied on the Supreme Court's Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC (2000), which rejected a claimed constitutional minimum on campaign contributions and instead said the test was whether Missouri's contribution limit was so low as to impede the ability of the candidates to amass the resources necessary for effective advocacy.  But since 2003, the Supreme Court overturned Vermont's ultra-low contribution limits in Randall v. Sorrell (2006).  Thus, the Ninth Circuit panel wondered whether Judge Lovell thought that Randall v. Sorrell abrogated circuit law in Montana Right to Life Ass'n.

Judge Lovell answered that question later last week, when he issued his promised findings and conclusions.  He wrote,

The Randall opinion is directly on point here.  The Randall decision undeniably paints a new gloss on the law and provides important insight into the lower bound for contribution limits.  Randall is intervening law that obviates Montana Right to Life's precedential value, particularly in light of the Randall plurality's expressed suspicion of Montana's contribution limits.

Op. at 28.

The case is now in the Ninth Circuit's court.  While its temporary stay is still in effect, the court may revoke it in light of Judge Lovell's findings, or it may not.  Whatever the court does with its temporary stay, it looks like the appeal will move forward.  The Ninth Circuit established a page for the case here.

SDS

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