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Holding true to their inclinations revealed at oral argument and splitting along party lines in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that 2-year aggregate limits on campaign contributions are invalid under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia,Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion concurring in the result, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

At issue in McCutcheon was the federal law that caps the total amount of campaign contributions an individual can give to all federal candidates over a two-year period at $48,600. It also limits the total amount an individual can give to political committees that make contributions to candidates to $74,600 and caps the total amount for contributions in the two-year cycle at to $74,600.

Read the full opinion here.

Elena Kagan, the youngest justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, wasted no time yesterday jumping into the fray during argument in the latest campaign finance case, McCutcheon v. FEC, according to this Reuters report.

At issue in McCutcheon is the viability of FEC aggregate limits on contributions to candidates and political committees.

Just minutes after the argument began, Kagan fired off a number of worst-case scenarios that might result if the court threw out those limits:

Kagan raised the specter of an individual donor who stays within the base $5,000 limit for a Political Action Committee (PAC) but then – presuming the aggregate limits are lifted – contributes to 100 PACs. She theorized that money could be transferred to U.S. Senate candidates who would know of the original contributions and feel beholden to the contributors.

Under another scenario, she said, an individual could stay within base limits on contributions to candidates, parties and committees but – if facing no overall cap – give a total $3.5 million. “Having written a check for 3.5-or-so million dollars … are you suggesting that that party and the members of that party are not going to owe me anything, that I won’t get any special treatment?”

Those scenarios, mocked by Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, caught the attention of others, though — including Justice Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts — prompting some to speculate that a decision along party lines might not be forthcoming.

At another point, Kagan took a shot at her conservative colleagues’ decision in Citizens United:

Justice Kennedy, who wrote the Citizens United decision, challenged Verrilli about the underpinning of the court’s 1976 Buckley v. Valeo ruling that gave government more leeway to put limits on contributions compared to expenditures.

Verrilli said Congress could always write a new law, if it chose, changing the contribution limits.

That prompted Kagan to interject, “And General, I suppose that if this court is having second thoughts about its rulings that independent expenditures are not corrupting, we could change that part of the law.” That would mean reversing Citizens United. Said Verrilli, “Far be it from me to suggest that you don’t, your honor.”

 

 

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, the case challenging overall limits on campaign contributions, and already the tea-leaf reading has begun.

The consensus?  The four justices on the liberal wing (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) favor upholding the law;  Justice Anthony Kennedy is unpredictable; and the four justices on the conservative wing (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) are in favor of striking down the limits (although Roberts might be looking for a compromise).

From the New York Times:

The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines.

“By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some.”

Justice Antonin Scalia responded, sarcastically, that he assumed “a law that only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is O.K.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who probably holds the crucial vote, indicated that he was inclined to strike down overall limits on contributions to several candidates, but not a separate overall limit on contributions to several political committees.

From Scotusblog:

The Justices who favor limits on campaign donations seemed to believe that the current system is corrupting in favor of the rich, but that they still would like some harder information on just how that happens.  And the Justices who favor the freer flow of money into federal campaigns seemed to think there are enough safeguards against corruption already and that any more will stifle political expression, of the not so rich, too.  But anything like a consensus that could attract five votes eluded both sides.

Read more about the McCutcheon case here.

Outside groups that spent more than $2 million in last year’s heated N.C. Supreme Court justice race were highlighted this week in a report about the increasing role of Washington money in state judicial races.

As part of an article looking at how national political funders are getting involved in local judicial races, the Center for Public Integrity focused on $1.2 million from the Republican State Leadership Council. The money flowed through to an ad featuring a banjo-strumming narrator singing about how N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby is tough on crime, according to the report.

(Newby, of course, ended up defeating challenger Sam Ervin IV, a N.C. Court of appeal judge, in the November election.)

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan investigative news organization, found that “North Carolina’s Supreme Court election was arguably decided by groups like Justice for All — secretive nonprofits, unaffiliated with a candidate, whose money came from out of state,”

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Despite overwhelming support for the program from judges, voters and former governors, Republicans in the House have stepped in line with the Governor and their colleagues in the Senate and proposed in their budget, released today (at page 12), to eliminate public funding for judicial campaigns. 

Someone is really holding their feet to the fire on this one.