In First Issued Opinion, Judge Ho Relies on Constitution and Would Overturn Low Contributions Limit

RNLA member Prof. Brad Smith wrote about the first judicial opinion issued by Judge James Ho, one of President Trump's nominees to the Fifth Circuit:

“The unfortunate trend in modern constitutional law is not only to create rights that appear nowhere in the Constitution, but also to disfavor rights expressly enumerated by our Founders.” . . .

His first opinion, released in April, was a dissent in a case asking whether an Austin, Texas, $350 limit on political contributions was constitutional. . . . He began with a detailed analysis as to why Austin’s $350 limit on campaign contributions should be struck down as unconstitutionally low under Supreme Court precedent. Straightforward enough. Ho went further, questioning the right of government to limit political participation at all. “As citizens,” he wrote, “we enjoy the fundamental right to express our opinions on who does or does not belong in elected office.” 

Prof. Smith describes how Judge Ho applied the anti-corruption standard that is the only constitutionally permissible rationale for contribution limits, according to the Supreme Court, in a common-sense, real-world fashion, instead of the in the theoretical, and therefore far too expansive, manner in which it is usually applied:  

Ho pointed out that contribution limits prohibit the exercise of protected First Amendment rights to support candidates and voice political views even when there is no corruption whatsoever. Adding a badly needed dose of realism, Ho wrote, “Countless Americans contribute for no other reason than to support candidates who share their beliefs and interests … without any inkling of a quid pro quo agreement. Indeed, many Americans contribute without ever even communicating with the candidate. … A donor might simply be inspired by the candidate’s prior record of public service, proposed future action, or a particular speech or debate performance. Such contributions are far from corrupt.” . . . 

What makes Ho’s opinion so refreshing is that it emphasizes actual corruption and the motives of donors, bringing campaign finance law back to the real world. Too often courts have sanctioned vague restrictions on political speech to meet nebulous goals and strained hypotheticals. The First Amendment is not a relic of an era gone by, and it’s rewarding to see a judge who thinks the rights enumerated in the Constitution are still meaningful.

Judge Ho's opinion respects the text of the Constitution, and his reliance on the Constitution protects the enumerated rights of individuals against over-regulation by the government.  This is the kind of text-based legal reasoning starting to be issued around the country by judges nominated by President Trump, who are beginning to restore the rule of law to the judiciary.