Supreme Court Seems Likely To Strike Down Arizona Campaign Finance Law

The Supreme Court Justices left little doubt on Monday regarding how they will decide the latest case on campaign finance. The case is a challenge to Arizona’s public election financing system, which provides additional funding to candidates who participate in the program when their opponents, or third party interest groups, spend more money attacking the candidate than the candidate received in public financing.

During the first half of the argument session today, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan attacked the lawyer for the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, asking him to explain how the law can be a violation of First Amendment free speech rights if the candidate who does not take public financing is the one choosing whether or not to make an expenditure. They implied that it was wrong to characterize the additional funds to the other side as a burden on the privately-financed candidate.

When the law’s defenders stepped up to the lectern, Chief Justice John Roberts quickly jumped in, asking whether the system might result in less political speech and pointing out that Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission’s web site says that their mission is to level the electoral playing field, a justification the Supreme Court has struck down in previous cases. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito joined in, suggesting people might hold off putting out ads supporting a candidate if they knew their opponents would receive more money as a result.

While Justice Clarence Thomas did not speak (he has not spoken at oral argument for years), the other justices made it fairly clear how they felt about the law. A decision will be handed down by early June, likely striking down the law on a 5-4 vote.

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