Lair v. Bullock

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Election Law
  • Date Filed: 05-26-2015
  • Case #: 12-35809
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Bea for the Court; Circuit Judges Fisher and Murguia
  • Full Text Opinion

Limitations on contributions to political candidates will be upheld if there is adequate evidence that the limitation furthers a sufficiently important state interest, and if the limits are “closely drawn.”

A Montana statute allowed individuals and Political Action Committees (“PACs”) to contribute campaign funds, but only a limited contribution amount per office. A group of individuals, PACs and party-affiliated committees (collectively, “Lair”) challenged the limitation, arguing it is a burden on Lair’s First Amendment rights. The district court concluded the contribution limitation was unconstitutional, and as a result, permanently enjoined its enforcement. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit found that the district court did not apply the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission test on what constitutes a state interest, nor did the district court use the correct formulation of what constitutes “closely drawn” in preventing quid pro quo. The panel relied on a string of precedent, Montana Right to Life Association v. Eddleman, Randall v. Sorrell, and Lair v. Murry, to address the constitutionality of Montana’s contribution limits. The panel primarily focused on determining whether Eddleman remained good law. Lair claimed that Citizens United abrogated Eddleman’s important state interest test, and that Randall’s two part, multi-factor “closely drawn” test abrogated Eddleman’s closely drawn test. Under Citizens United, the Supreme Court recognized “corruption” under the “important state interest” test as limited to quid pro quo situations. Furthermore, the panel said Randall did not contain a majority opinion capable of abrogating Eddleman. Since there was no majority opinion, Randall could not serve as controlling authority. As a result, the panel reasoned that contribution limits would be upheld if there is adequate evidence that the limitation furthers a sufficiently important state interest, and if the limits are “closely drawn.” Therefore, the panel sent instruction to the district court to (1) decide whether Montana showed a “state interest,” and (2) to identify what interest the district court assumes. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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