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Voters to US Supreme Court: Alaska’s draconian campaign contribution limits violate First Amendment

ADF attorneys co-counsel on petition seeking reversal of 9th Circuit decision
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WASHINGTON – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys, together with lead counsel Paul D. Clement and other Kirkland & Ellis LLP attorneys representing Alaska voters, asked the U.S. Supreme Court Monday to take a First Amendment case challenging the state’s draconian campaign contribution laws. Those laws limit voters to a maximum of $500 per year to any political candidate or any group other than a political party. When adjusted for inflation, the $500 limit falls below a similar Vermont law the Supreme Court struck down in 2006, making it nearly impossible for Alaskan candidates to communicate with voters in the nation’s largest geographical districts.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit panel upheld Alaska’s limit—but only because it considered its decision “compelled” by circuit precedent that predates several of the Supreme Court’s most recent campaign finance decisions. The panel openly acknowledged that the 9th Circuit’s campaign finance jurisprudence is in tension with the Supreme Court’s decisions but ruled the way it did anyway.

“The freedom of voters to participate in the political process is seriously impeded by laws that don’t allow them to meaningfully support the candidates and causes they believe in,” said ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “As the Supreme Court has rightly made clear, such contributions are a quintessential First Amendment exercise. The 9th Circuit seemed to understand this but, mystifyingly, relied on its own, older precedent rather than the Supreme Court’s more recent decisions in upholding Alaska’s overly restrictive campaign contribution limits. For that reason, we are asking the high court to take up this case and vindicate the First Amendment rights of Alaska voters.”

As the petition requesting the Supreme Court to hear the case, Thompson v. Hebdon, explains, “Alaska is a large and sparsely populated state whose unique geography poses distinct and expensive challenges for candidates for elected office. Yet Alaska has some of the lowest campaign contribution limits in the country: It allows individuals to contribute only $500 per year to any candidate for any office, or to any group other than a political party…. Not only are those limits lower than those of all but three other states; they are significantly lower than any contribution limit this Court has ever upheld. In fact, adjusting for inflation (something Alaska law does not do), those limits are lower than the limits that this Court has struck down….”

“The Ninth Circuit thus does not even bother to conceal the conflict between its campaign-finance jurisprudence and this Court’s precedents, which have only gotten more protective of First Amendment rights…,” the petition continues. “The inevitable result is a decision that approves restrictions that strike at the heart of First Amendment values. Much like a law that allows the display of only minuscule campaign buttons, Alaska’s $500 limits allow bare association while depriving individuals of the ability to provide meaningful support. The Ninth Circuit has now repeatedly made clear that only this Court can restore First Amendment rights within its boundaries. This Court should grant certiorari and ensure that petitioners and other voters enjoy their full First Amendment protections.”

Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.


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John Bursch
John Bursch
Senior Counsel, Vice President of Appellate Advocacy
John Bursch is senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy with Alliance Defending Freedom.