Davis v. Federal Election Commission

PETITIONER: Jack Davis
RESPONDENT: Federal Election Commission
LOCATION: Earthquake Park

DOCKET NO.: 07-320
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 554 US 724 (2008)
ARGUED: Apr 22, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 26, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Andrew D. Herman - argued the cause for the appellant
Paul D. Clement - Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the appellee

Facts of the case

Jack Davis, a wealthy Democratic candidate for Congress from New York's 26th Congressional District, brought this claim challenging the constitutionality of the so-called 'Millionaire's Amendment' to the 2002 campaign finance law. Davis argued in the district court that the law, which basically raises the contribution cap for individuals running against self-financed candidates, violated the First Amendment and the Equal Protection principle implicit in the Fifth Amendment. The district court rejected both of these claims, stating first that the law did not implicate the First Amendment because it did not impede Davis' ability to spend money in support of his message, noting that it actually led to a higher level of speech in the race overall. The district court similarly rejected Davis' Fifth Amendment claim, reasoning that although Davis may have been held to higher reporting standards than his opponent, his disproportionate wealth meant that the two candidates were not similarly situated and, therefore, the Equal Protection Clause did not apply. The campaign finance law allows direct appeal to the Court, which will consider whether Davis has standing to bring the First Amendment claim before deciding the case on the merits.

Question

Does the Millionaire's Amendment to the 2002 campaign finance law, which raises the contribution limit for those running against a self-financed candidate, violate free speech clause of the First Amendment and the equal protection principle of the Fifth Amendment?

Media for Davis v. Federal Election Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 22, 2008 in Davis v. Federal Election Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 26, 2008 in Davis v. Federal Election Commission

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has our opinion in case 07-320, Davis versus Federal Election Commission.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

And this case comes to us on appeal from United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Federal campaign finance law limits the contributions to candidates for the House of Representatives may receive from individuals and political parties.

These limits generally apply equally to all candidates.

However, Section 319 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, part of the so-called, “Millionaires Amendment,” departs from this general rule.

When a self-financing candidate spends more than $350,000 of personal funds and certain other conditions are met.

Section 319(a) expands the normal contribution limits but only for the candidate's non-self-financing opponent.

To make it possible to tell when this -- a symmetrical regime applies, Section 319(b) requires the self-financing candidate to disclose certain information about his or her personal campaign expenditures.

Appellant Jack Davis, a candidate for the House in 2004 and 2006 challenged the constitutionality of Sections 319(a) and (b).

A three-judge panel with the District Court concluded that Davis had standing but rejected his challenge on the merits, and Davis appealed to this Court.

We agree that Davis possesses spending and that his claims are not moved.

However, we conclude that Sections 319(a) and (b) violate the First Amendment and we therefore reverse the judgment of the District Court.

If Section 319(a)'s expanded contribution limits were available to both self-financing and non-self-financing candidates, Davis would have no constitutional claim.

By expanding contribution limits only for non-self-financing candidates however, Section 319 (a) burdens the self-financing candidate's right in the words of Buckley versus Valeo to spend personal funds to, "vigorously and tirelessly advocate his own election."

Section 319(a) does this because if a candidate vigorously exercises the right to use personal funds for campaign speech that candidate's opponent obtains substantial and unprecedented fund raising advantages.

This burden is not justified by any compelling state interest.

Reliance on personal funds rather than campaign contributions reduces, rather than increases the threat of corruption and perception of corruption.

And we have never recognized the interest that the Government has asserted in defending the constitutionality of this provision, that is an interest in leveling electoral opportunities as a legitimate Government interest.

Endorsing that interest would have ominous implications for voter's authority to evaluate the strengths of candidates for public office.

Because Section 319(a)'s asymmetrical contribution regime imposes a significant burden on First Amendment rights that is not justified by a compelling state interest that cannot withstand First Amendment scrutiny.

And because Section 319(b)'s disclosure requirements exist merely to implement Section 319(a)'s unconstitutional regime to burden those requirements, imposes likewise unwarranted.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part which Justice Souter, Justice Ginsburg, and Justice Breyer have joined in part.

Justice Ginsburg has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part which Justice Breyer has joined.