CLC Update December 23, 2011

  1. Legal Center Files Brief in Challenge to Minnesota Disclosure & Campaign Finance Laws
  2. Reform Groups Urge Speaker-designee Boehner to Preserve Ethics Rules & Office of Congressional Ethics
  3. Victory in North Carolina Voting Rights Act Case


Legal Center Files Brief in Challenge to Minnesota Disclosure & Campaign Finance Laws

On December 22, 2010, the Campaign Legal Center, along with Democracy 21, filed an amici brief with the Eighth Circuit in Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) v. Swanson.  In the suit, the plaintiffs rely on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC to attack Minnesota’s restriction on corporate contributions to state candidates and political parties, and its state disclosure requirements for corporate independent expenditures. 

In a statement Legal Center counsel Tara Malloy called the suit, “yet another example of a campaign finance challenge targeting laws that have survived the recent onslaught of campaign finance deregulation from the Supreme Court, but one that conveniently ignores the Roberts Court’s strong affirmation of campaign finance disclosure,”  Malloy noted the irony of the suit being brought in Minnesota, “where strong disclosure laws led to significant controversy over contributions made by Target to a committee endorsing a controversial gubernatorial candidate this past election cycle.”

The district court in the MCCL case denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction in September of this year, and amici curiae urged the Court of Appeals to affirm this decision.

Amici argued that Citizens United invalidated only restrictions on independent expenditures by corporations and unions, and therefore did not question the constitutionality of restrictions on corporate contributions.  Further, as the amici brief pointed out, Citizens United was a powerful endorsement of the constitutionality of disclosure, with eight Justices upholding the federal disclosure provisions that were at issue in the case.  For these reasons, the amici brief argued that the plaintiffs have no basis for their challenge to Minnesota’s corporate contribution restriction or its disclosure laws.

To read the brief filed by the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, click here. Oral argument is scheduled for January 11, 2011.


Reform Groups Urge Speaker-Designee Boehner to Preserve Ethics Rules & Office of Congressional Ethics

On December 21, the Campaign Legal Center, along with Common Cause, CREW, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG, sent a letter to Speaker-designee Boehner (R-OH) to “support, without any weakening changes, the gift, travel and other ethics rules adopted by the House in 2007 in response to the Jack Abramoff scandals.” 

The letter highlights the reform groups’ strong support of the office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) and its continued importance in maintaining existence of ethics rules and the standard of conduct for Members of Congress.  The organizations credit the OCE with helping to revitalize an ethics process that had become the object of public scorn after years of inaction.

Draft operating rules for the U.S. House in the next Congress were released Dec. 22.  The draft rules preserve the OCE.  Under the draft rules package, the OCE will operate under the same mandate and without any changes to OCE’s structure, according to statements made by GOP spokespersons.   

To read the full letter, click here.


Victory in North Carolina Voting Rights Act Case

On December 16, a federal judge in Washington, DC dismissed a lawsuit filed by a group of private citizens challenging Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in LaRoque v. Holder.  The case had been brought by five private persons and a private membership association in Kinston, North Carolina.  They sought a declaration that Section 5 was unconstitutional , requesting in their complaint declarations that Section 5 unconstitutionally exceeded Congress's enforcement authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that Section 5, as amended in 2006, violates the Fifth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments both generally and "particularly as applied by the Attorney General . . . in his specific refusal to permit Kinston's change to nonpartisan elections[.]”  Plaintiffs also sought injunctions prohibiting all future enforcement of Section 5 against Kinston, and preventing the Attorney General from enforcing Section 5 against Kinston's proposed change to nonpartisan elections.

In issuing its ruling on the motions to dismiss, the court (Bates, J.) noted that the plaintiffs, who had alleged both a facial and as-applied challenge to the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in their complaint, had “abandon[ed] their previously-articulated as-applied challenge to Section 5” at the hearing on the motions to dismiss.  The court observed that while litigants have the right to abandon their claims, “plaintiffs may not base their claims on hypothetical factual scenarios, nor may they set forth novel bases for their alleged harms, absent the filing of an amended complaint.”  Accordingly, the court concluded “that whether for lack of standing or for lack of a cause of action, plaintiffs’ facial challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, based on Section 5's application to Kinston, must be dismissed.”

In a statement, Legal Center Executive Director J. Gerald Hebert hailed the ruling but cautioned the case “is the first of two constitutional challenges to the Voting Rights Act, hoping to find a sympathetic audience in the United States Supreme Court.” He added that the LaRoque ruling was “an important victory in safeguarding this historic and still very pertinent piece of legislation.”

Hebert served as co-counsel to a group of intervenors in the case that included North Carolina NAACP.  To read the court’s full opinion, click here. To read the intervenors’ motion to dismiss, click here.