Unanimous Ninth Circuit Panel Extends Stay of Montana Campaign Contributions Case Pending Appeal

Following up on this post, the Ninth Circuit motions panel, in an opinion by Judge Bybee, unanimously stayed the district court order which would have had the effect of removing most of the contribution limits in the state of Montana judge weeks before the election.  As I had suggested, heavy on the 9th Circuit judges’ concerns were what it would mean to lift these limits just before the election and the fact that the judge threw out a large number of contribution limits after finding a problem only with one of them.  But also especially relevant was earlier Ninth Circuit authority upholding Montana’s limits, which the district court had held was no longer binding on the court in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Randall.  The Ninth Circuit panel, made up of pretty conservative judges, gave an unusually detailed explanation for why it was staying the judge’s ruling.

Here’s part of the introduction to the 44-page opinion:

The State of Montana has sought a stay of the district court’s order pending appeal. For the reasons we explain below, we believe that the state is likely to succeed on appeal. We conclude that the State of Montana has made a strong showing that a merits panel of this Court will likely conclude that, absent en banc proceedings or an intervening decision of the Supreme Court, we remain bound by our decision in Eddleman. See Miller v. Gammie, 335 F.3d 889, 892–93 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc). We also conclude that a merits panel is likely to hold that the analytical framework of the Supreme Court’s decision in Randall does not alter the analysis of Buckley or Shrink Missouri in a way that affects our decision in Eddleman, for three reasons. First, there is no opinion of the Court in Randall. Thalheimer v. City of San Diego, 645 F.3d 1109, 1127 n.5 (9th Cir. 2011) (“[T]he plurality opinion [in Randall] [i]s persuasive authority, though not a binding precedent.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Second, even if we thought that Justice Breyer’s plurality opinion represented the narrowest view of a majority of the Court, it did not depart from the principles of Buckley and Shrink Missouri that we applied in Eddleman. Randall, 548 U.S. at 242 (opinion of Breyer, J.) (“[T]his Court has repeatedly adhered to Buckley’s constraints . . . .”). Third, even if we applied Randall to § 13-37-216, we cannot find, on the basis of the district court’s findings, reason to disagree with, much less overturn, Eddleman. In light of Montana’s interest in regulating campaign contributions, the lack of evidence that other parties will be substantially injured, and the public’s substantial interest in the stability of its electoral system in the final weeks leading to an election, we will stay the order pending the state’s appeal. See Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 434 (2009).

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