Cort v. Ash

PETITIONER: Cort
RESPONDENT: Ash
LOCATION: Interstate Highway 5, approximately 4 miles south of San Clemente

DOCKET NO.: 73-1908
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 422 US 66 (1975)
ARGUED: Mar 18, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 17, 1975

ADVOCATES:
Alan B. Morrison - for Judith Bonderman and others as amici curiae
David Berger - for respondents; Cletus P
Edwin P. Rome - for petitioners; Jerome R
James F. Rill - for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae
John Hardin Young - for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae
Lawrence B. Kraus - for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae
Milton A. Smith - for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae
Reuben B. Robertson, III - for Judith Bonderman and others as amici curiae
Thomas F. Shannon - for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Cort v. Ash

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 18, 1975 in Cort v. Ash

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 17, 1975 in Cort v. Ash

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 73-1908, Cort against Ash will be announced by Mr. Justice Brennan.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This case is also here on certiorari from the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Petitioner Cort, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, he and his follow directors authorized the use of corporate moneys during the 1972 Presidential campaign to pay for political advertisements in various newspapers and magazines purporting to refute statements of the Democratic candidate, George McGovern, that corporations did not carry their fair share of the tax burden.

Respondent, Ash, is a Bethlehem stockholder.

He filed this suit before election day in 1972, charging that the use of corporate moneys to pay for the advertisements violated the criminal statute Section 610, prohibiting corporations from making expenditures in connection with any Presidential election.

And he sought, both as citizen and stockholder, injunctive relief against those expenditures in connection, not alone with the 1972 Presidential election but also in connection with any future Presidential campaigns, and he also sought compensatory and punitive damages in favor of the corporation.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that this private cause of action whether brought by respondent, Ash, as a citizen to secure injunctive relief or as a stockholder to secure injunctive or derivative damage relief is a proper remedy to address the violation of the criminal statute, Section 610, prohibiting corporate expenditures in presidential election campaigns.

Well, we reverse on both aspects of the Court of Appeals' decision.

As to the injunctive relief which at this state of course concerns only future elections, we hold that the judgment must be reversed in light of the creations since the Court of Appeals decision by the Congress of the Federal Election Commission.

The Amendments creating that Commission expressly require that complaints of irregularities in the future campaigns must be filed with the Commission and empowers the Commission to decide whether to request the Attorney General to file a civil action for injunctive relief.

Since our duty is to decide this case according to the law existing at the time of our decision, respondent then must file with the Commission any complaints he may make of irregularities in connection with future campaigns and cannot maintain this action at this juncture for injunctive relief.

We also reverse the judgment insofar as respondent seeks damages derivatively as stockholder, although the fact that violation of a criminal statute is charged does not necessarily preclude implication of a private cause of action for damages, we can find no indication whatever in the legislative history of the 1970 Amendments that suggest a congressional intention to vest in corporate shareholders a private federal right to sue for damages for its violation if they have such a right they must seek it under state law.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Brennan.