Ninth Circuit finds that some Alaska campaign finance rules violate First Amendment

Thanks, Ned, for your terrific insight over the last couple of weeks. And thanks once again, Rick, for this opportunity to join ELB as a contributor, including picking up daily blogging duty for the next couple of weeks.

Late last week, the Ninth Circuit issued its decision in Thompson v. Hebdon, a challenge to Alaska’s campaign finance laws. The case was filed back in 2015, and the Supreme Court remanded it in 2019, “ducking major confrontation,” as Rick blogged earlier. The opinion finds that some of the Alaska laws at issue run afoul of the First Amendment: a law that prohibits candidates from accepting more than $3,000 in contributions from people living outside Alaska, and a law that prohibits individuals from giving more than $500 to a candidate or a political group. (It also concluded a couple of other challenged laws were permissible.)

The first time around, the Ninth Circuit found that the $500 limit was permissible. But the Supreme Court’s per curiam opinion in 2019 strongly hinted that the $500 limit was problematic in light of its 2006 decision in Randall v. Sorrell. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote separately to highlight potential ways that the limit might be sustained, even though she agreed with sending the case back.

The Ninth Circuit panel split 2-1 on these issues. Judge Consuelo Callahan wrote the majority opinion, joined by Judge Carlos Bea. Chief Judge Sidney Thomas dissented.

Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy presaged this result over at the Harvard Law Review Blog back in 2019. The case attracted a few amici at the cert stage back in 2019. Will the case go en banc or back to the Supreme Court? Or will Alaska fashion new rules to meet the deficiencies the Ninth Circuit identified here?

From the Anchorage Daily News, “Federal court ruling likely allows unlimited cash in Alaska political campaigns.”

Share this: