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“Soft money” case appealed

The Republican National Committee, seeking to move a major new campaign finance case to the Supreme Court swiftly, has filed a formal notice that it will appeal a lower court ruling upholding a federal law limiting so-called “soft money” donations to political parties.  The appeal notice is here.   Lawyers involved said the appeal papers will be filed in the Supreme Court by no later than April 25.  Although the case could have a significant influence on the flow of money for this year’s congressional elections, it is not clear that the Supreme Court would agree to hear and decide it before election day on Nov. 2, although federal law does mandate that such a case be heard speedily.

A unanimous ruling March 26 by a three-judge U.S. District Court in Washington in Republican National Committee v. Federal Election Commission (District Court docket 08-1953) was discussed in this post.  The Court ruled that the GOP challenge to “soft money” contribution limits was not aided by the Supreme Court’s Jan. 21 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

Under a 2002 federal campaign finance law, any challenge to the constitutionality of any part of that law is to be decided initially by a three-judge District Court, with a direct appeal then to the Supreme Court.  The law also provides that the Supreme Court is “to advance on the docket and to expedite to the greatest possible extent the disposition” of the appeal.  This Term, the Justices are to complete their scheduled oral arguments on Wednesday, April 28.  It thus appears that, if the Court were to take on the new RNC appeal for decision during the current Term, it would have to do so in a special sitting.

The parties in the case could agree to a very rapid briefing schedule, but it still would be up to the Supreme Court itself to decide whether to rush the case to an argument and a final decision before the Court recesses for the summer, expected in late June.  Last Term, the Court held a special sitting in September, before the new Term opened, to hear argument in the Citizens United case.