The Supreme Court on Friday refused to bar the state of Minnesota from continuing to enforce a new law that requires non-profit and profit-making corporations to do their political spending through an independent fund — a law passed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling last January freeing corporations to spend unlimited funds to try to influence federal elections.  Three Minnesota corporations — one that promotes anti-abortion causes, one that supports low taxes and limited government, and a for-profit corporation in the travel business — contended that the state law, applicable only in state elections, is just like a federal law at issue in the January decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).

The Court’s order, with no noted dissents, came in the closing days of this year’s election campaign — the period, the challenging corporations had argued, when it is most important to them to be able to spend money without having to set up the state equivalents of federal PACs, or “political action committees.”   Noting that the Supreme Court in Citizens United had ruled that corporations taking part in federal elections cannot constitutionally be required to do their spending through separate PACs, the Minnesota challengers said that their state legislature had tried to circumvent that decision by creating what amounts to the same kind of obligation.

The “separate segregated fund” requirement under Minnesota law, they argued, causes political spending that a corporation would like to undertake to be done through a different “speaker” than the corporation itself.  Such funds are not the alter egos of the corporation itself, so do not speak for it as it would speak for itself, they asserted.  They also contended that the separate fund approach in the state puts them under more burdensome disclosure requirements than the Supreme Court has tolerated for corporations engaged in federal campaigns.

The challengers had taken their plea for an injunction against the Minnesota law to the Circuit Justice for the Eighth Circuit Court, Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.   He referred the matter to the full Court, which turned down the plea in mid-afternoon.  It did so by its one-sentence order, with no explanation.  The Court has recently reiterated, however, that, close to election time, it takes stronger arguments to get an injunction to stop enforcement of an election law than it would to get a simple postponement of a law’s effect, since the former essentially amounts to striking down the law.

A federal judge and the Eighth Circuit refused to block the state laws at issue.  The Circuit Court said it would consider such an order when it holds a hearing on the merits of the case in January.

In the Supreme Court, the application for an injunction was Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, et al., v. Swanson (application 10A422).  The request was for an injunction against the state laws pending the challengers’ appeal.

Posted in Cases in the Pipeline

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Minnesota election plea denied, SCOTUSblog (Oct. 29, 2010, 3:35 PM),