A First Amendment Victory - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
A First Amendment Victory

The Supreme Court has overturned Vermont’s draconian caps on campaign contributions and expenditures in Randall v. Sorrell (.pdf). As usual with campaign finance cases, the Court’s divisions are complicated — and, given the addition of Roberts and Alito since 2000’s McConnell v. FEC, interesting.

Breyer wrote the plurality opinion, ruling that Vermont’s law is inconsistent with 1976’s Buckley v. Valeo, which overturned limits on campaign expenditures but allowed limits on campaign contributions; he was joined by Roberts. The holding on expenditure limits is straightforward (they aren’t constitutional), while the holding on contribution limits is less so: Vermont’s contribution limits are held to be so low that it crosses some threshold that the limits at issue in Buckley did not.

Alito joined the plurality with the exception of a passage explaining and rejecting Vermont’s argument for overturning or limiting the scope of Buckley. Alito argues in concurrence that this argument was an afterthought, not the thrust of Vermont’s position, and that the court needn’t even consider tampering with Buckley. (There’s a hint in this that Alito might be open to revisiting Buckley in a different case.)

Thomas, joined by Scalia, concurs in the judgement and argues that Buckley should be overturned and all limits on campaign contributions and expenditures should be held unconstitutional. This seems right to me, and it’s a little disappointing that neither of the new justices adopted this view (though Alito’s concurrence suggests he might be open to it in the future).

Kennedy concurs in the judgement but registers skepticism of the whole system of campaign finance law as it currently exists.

Souter, joined by Ginsberg, dissents and argues that Vermont’s contribution limits are consistent with Buckley and that its expenditure limits might be (he defers to the lower courts on that issue). Stevens dissents, joining Souter regarding the contribution limits and arguing that Buckley‘s ruling on expenditures should be overturned and caps on both contributions and expenditures should be held constitutional.

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