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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Strikes Down Arizona Campaign Finance Law

Posted Jun 27, 2011 9:41 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Developing: The U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Arizona’s system of public financing for political campaigns on First Amendment grounds.

The law gave publicly financed candidates more public dollars when their privately funded opponents spent more. The court struck down the law in a 5-4 decision holding that the matching funds provision imposes a substantial burden on protected political speech of privately funded candidates and the organizations that finance their campaigns.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the majority opinion (PDF). "Any increase in speech resulting from the Arizona law is of one kind and one kind only—that of publicly financed candidates," Roberts wrote. "The burden imposed on privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups reduces their speech."

"We do not today call into question the wisdom of public financing as a means of funding political candidacy," Roberts wrote. "That is not our business. But determining whether laws governing campaign finance violate the First Amendment is very much our business." The Arizona matching funds provision "goes too far," he said.

Justice Elena Kagan dissented in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen G. Breyer.

The court ruled in two combined cases, Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Publicly Funded Arizona Elections"

ABA Journal: "Candidates Say Public Campaign Funds Chill Their 1st Amendment Rights"

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