Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission

PETITIONER: Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.
RESPONDENT: Federal Election Commission
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 04-1581
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2005-2006)
LOWER COURT: Federal district court

CITATION: 546 US 410 (2006)
GRANTED: Sep 27, 2005
ARGUED: Jan 17, 2006
DECIDED: Jan 23, 2006

ADVOCATES:
James Bopp, Jr. - argued the cause for Petitioner
Paul D. Clement - argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) prohibits corporate funds from being used for certain political advertisements in the 60-day period prior to an election. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) ran a series of television advertisements encouraging viewers to contact two U.S. Senators and tell them to oppose judicial filibusters. WRTL anticipated that the ads would probably run afoul of BCRA and sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC), seeking an order barring the FEC from enforcing BCRA against the ads. WRTL's suit alleged that BCRA is unconstitutional as it applies to the ads, which it claimed are "grassroots lobbying advertisements" unrelated to electoral campaigning. The FEC argued that the Supreme Court in McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003) had ruled out all "as-applied" challenges to BCRA. The U.S. District Court for D.C. agreed and denied WRTL's motion.

Question

Does McConnell v. Federal Election Commission (2003) allow "as-applied" challenges to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's prohibitions on corporate funding of political advertisements?

Media for Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 2006 in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 23, 2006 in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

We have a per-curiam opinion to announce in No. 04-1581, Wisconsin Right to Life, Incorporated, versus the Federal Election Commission.

The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 prohibits corporations from using general treasury funds to pay for electioneering communications.

These are defined to include broadcast advertisements within a certain period of an election that mention a candidate.

In 2004, Wisconsin Right to Life wanted to run television ads asking Wisconsinites to tell their Senators to oppose the filibuster of judicial nominees.

The advertisements were covered by the definition of “electioneering communication”, because they included the name of a Senator up for re-election and were going to run within 60 days of the 2004 election.

Wisconsin Right to Life brought suit in Federal District Court, arguing that applying the Act its advertisements violated the First Amendment.

The District Court rejected this claim, because it considered the argument foreclosed by one of our prior decisions.

The lower court misinterpreted that prior decision.

In that case, we considered to facial challenge to the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

But in deciding a First Amendment facial challenge, we strike down a statute only if it is unconstitutional in a substantial portion of its application; otherwise, we uphold the statute against the facial challenge and leave it to future as-applied challenges to address whether the statute is unconstitutional in particular applications.

The Government argued that the lower court, after determining that the as-applied challenges were foreclosed, also held that Wisconsin Right to Life’s as-applied challenge must fail.

We do not think it clear that the District Court intended its opinion to rest on this alternative ground.

We, therefore, vacate the judgment and remand the case to the District Court to consider the merits of Wisconsin Right to Life’s as-applied challenge in the first instance.

This per-curiam opinion is unanimous.