9th Circuit Hearing Arguments Today In Landmark Free Speech Case

John Kramer
John Kramer · April 12, 2010

Arlington, Va.—A federal district court struck down Arizona’s so-called “Clean Elections” Act as unconstitutional, and today the Institute for Justice will ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm that decision when it argues the case of Bennett v. McComish. A three-judge panel is scheduled to hear oral arguments today at 9 a.m. at the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse, Courtroom 2, 3rd Floor, 95 Seventh Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

Arizona’s law was declared unconstitutional because it cancels out the free speech of traditional candidates for office—those who accept only private funds for their campaigns—by giving “matching funds” to taxpayer-funded candidates. Matching funds are taxpayer dollars given to publicly funded candidates when independent groups and privately funded opposition candidates raise or spend more than a government-imposed limit. For every dollar such groups or individuals spend to support the privately funded candidacies, the government cancels out—and often completely overwhelms—that support by paying that amount of money to their political competition and sometimes in multiple amounts if there is more than one taxpayer-funded candidate.

“Matching funds burden the free speech rights of candidates, citizens and independent groups,” said Bill Maurer, the lead attorney in the Institute for Justice’s challenge to the Arizona law. “The First Amendment does not tolerate government action that puts a thumb on the scales in favor of publicly funded candidates.”

Shortly after Judge Roslyn O. Silver of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that the matching funds provision unconstitutionally burdens First Amendment rights, an emergency motions panel of the 9th Circuit stayed her decision until the judges on today’s panel could hear oral argument in the case. IJ has asked the panel to vacate the stay so that no matching funds will be issued in the 2010 election.

“The 9th Circuit must act swiftly to vacate the stay so the burdens on free speech created by the matching funds provision can’t do their damage,” said Tim Keller, executive director of the IJ Arizona Chapter. “Unless the 9th Circuit makes a quick decision, Arizona’s Clean Elections scheme will muzzle the speech of candidates and independent groups in yet another election cycle. Arizona’s taxpayer-funded elections scheme has been trampling free speech rights for more than a decade. It is time to bring this failed experiment and others like it to an end.”

The Institute for Justice defends First Amendment freedoms and challenges burdensome campaign finance laws nationwide. IJ recently won a landmark victory for free speech in federal court on behalf of SpeechNow.org, an independent group that opposes or supports candidates on the basis of their stand on free speech. IJ also won recent victories for free speech in Florida when a federal judge struck down the state’s broadest-in-the-nation “electioneering communications” law and when it stopped an attempt to use Washington’s campaign finance laws to regulate talk-radio commentary about a ballot issue.

Read more about Arizona’s Clean Elections system.