Court to Review Campaign Finance Limits


McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission

On February 19, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear argument in a case challenging some of the contribution limits in federal campaign finance laws. (The lower court rejected the challenge.) One possible outcome of the case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is for the Supreme Court to declare some or all federal contribution limits unconstitutional. This possibility has drawn enormous attention.

But one point is worth keeping in mind when speculating about what the Court will do: The Court had no choice about whether or not to decide this case (a point also mentioned by Rick Hasen, proprietor of the Election Law Blog). There are a small number of types of cases, like this one, over which the Court has mandatory jurisdiction; in other words, parties can bring appeals to the Supreme Court as a right and the Court must decide them. The Court does not, of course, have to hear oral argument, and it often summarily affirms. But a summary affirmance is more consequential than a simple denial of certiorari, so as a practical matter, the justices may well have a lower bar for deciding to hear oral argument in such cases than they do for granting cert.