on May 22, 2017 at 6:17 pm
Today the Supreme Court declined to wade into the battle over “soft money,” unregulated contributions to political parties. The Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, also known as “McCain-Feingold” after the senators who spearheaded it, bars state and local political parties from using soft money for activities related to federal elections – for example, vote-registration drives and get-out-the-vote efforts for elections that include candidates for federal offices. The law also bars the use of soft money to raise money for activities related to federal elections.
The Louisiana Republican Party challenged the bans, arguing that they violated the First Amendment by prohibiting the party from using soft money for activities that are not coordinated with federal candidates or campaigns. A special three-judge panel rejected that claim, and today the justices agreed to let that ruling stand. Groups supporting campaign finance reform hailed the announcement as an important step to limit the influence of major donors. Justice Clarence Thomas and the court’s new justice, Neil Gorsuch, indicated that they would have heard oral argument in the case and reviewed it on the merits.
The justices added only one new case to their merits docket for next term: SAS Institute v. Lee, a patent case involving the process known as “inter partes review.” That process allows a third party to ask the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to take another look at claims in patents that have already been issued and, if the office concludes that they are not patentable, cancel them. The question now before the justices is whether the law requires the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which conducts the review, to issue a final written decision with regard to all of the claims that are being challenged, or instead only some of them.
The justices denied review in a group of cases that asked the court to weigh in on Michigan’s repeal of the Multistate Tax Compact, but they once again did not act on a number of high-profile petitions, including a challenge by a Colorado baker who argues that his religious beliefs would be violated by creating cakes for same-sex weddings and a California case that asks the justices to rule on whether the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. The gun rights case, Peruta v. California, has been relisted for this Thursday’s conference, so an order in the case could come as soon as Tuesday, May 30, at 9:30 a.m.