Supreme Court Upholds Soft Money Contribution Limits on Donations to Parties; Gorsuch Objects

Today, in Republican Party of Louisiana v. FEC, the Supreme Courtsummarily affirmed a three-judge court's upholding of the soft money contribution limits on donations to political parties:

The ban stems from the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, which prohibited unlimited and unregulated large contributions to party committees known as soft money. The high court on Monday affirmed without hearing oral arguments a lower court ruling that denied the Louisiana Republican Party’s challenge to soft money bans for state and local parties. 

“I’m disappointed in the decision, but it’s not that big of a surprise,” said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission member who manages the Election Law Reform Initiative at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “It’s now pretty clear that the court is just not going to get into this part of McCain-Feingold and if the parties want these provisions to change, they’re going to have to go to Congress.” 

On Capitol Hill, von Spakovsky’s side will meet intense resistance from Democrats, even as those who favor campaign finance deregulation have a pivotal ally in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican who led the legal challenge to the McCain-Feingold law. They also have an ally in White House Counsel Donald McGahn, a former Federal Election Commission member.

Newly confirmed Justice Gorsuch, with Justice Thomas, wanted the Court to hear the case and noted his vote in the order, his first major decision since joining the Court.  Prof. Rick Hasen (with whom we frequently disagree but who is probably correct here) said of Gorsuch:

This also tells us something about Justice Gorsuch. He was not shy at all — not only about being willing to wade into this very controversial area, but about announcing publicly his vote to hear the case (something he did not need to do). It could well be that he will be as conservative as Justice Thomas is in these cases. (Justice Thomas believes all campaign finance laws—including disclosure—should be subject to strict scrutiny and are likely unconstitutional.) I expect that unlike most Justices J. Gorsuch may not begin his first few terms cautiously, and then work his way up to his full Supreme Court voice.  

RNLA member James Bopp led this challenge to the soft money party contribution limits, noting that Citizens United left a "grave inequity" between parties, to which contributions are limited, and independent organizations such as super PACs, which may receive unlimited donations.

While today's opinion was very short, it does give us several interesting takeaways: 1. The principles outlined in Citizens United will only apply to outside organizations, at least for now.  2. Justice Gorsuch will likely be an active member of the Court from the beginning.  3. Justice Gorsuch, as his prior opinions indicated, is inclined to view campaign finance restrictions skeptically as infringing on important constitutional rights.  4. The legal challenges to contribution limits post-Citizens United will likely continue, until the right case and facts come before the Supreme Court to cause it to take up the issue once again or until Congress decides to amend the existing restrictions.