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Supreme Court hears arguments in campaign finance case

The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF] Tuesday in a campaign finance case. In McCutcheon v. FEC [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court heard arguments on the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) [text] limit on individual campaign contributions. The court previously held in Buckley v. Valeo [opinion] that limits on contributions implicate First Amendment interests but that limits may be imposed as long as they are closely drawn to match a sufficiently important governmental interest. Shaun McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee (RNC) [advocacy website] argue that the limit—up to $2,500 per election to federal candidates, up to $30,800 per calendar year to a national party committee and up to $5,000 per calendar year to any non-party political committee, with an aggregate limit of $117,000—is too low and not supported by a sufficient governmental interest because the Federal Election Commission (FEC) [official website] failed to show a specific, rather than generalized, risk of constitutional interference. The US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [opinion, PDF] for the FEC suggesting the limits on spending were a purely legislative issue. Counsel for petitioners argued Tuesday:

[A]ggregate contribution limits are an impermissible attempt to equalize the relative ability of individuals to participate in the political process. By prohibiting contributions that are within the modest base limits Congress has already imposed to combat the reality or appearance of corruption, these limits simply seek to prevent individuals from engaging in too much First Amendment activity.
Counsel for the FEC argued that, "[a]ggregate limits combat corruption." The justices appeared divided, with some expressing concern about limits on free speech and others worried about the wealthy wielding too much influence.

In Burt v. Titlow [transcript, PDF; JURIST report] the court considered several issues surrounding ineffective counsel under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) [text]. Vonlee Titlow was advised to reject a plea deal after acquiring a new attorney at the beginning of trial proceedings. As a result, she received a longer sentence, which the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found [opinion] was in violation of the Sixth Amendment [text]. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the Sixth Circuit erred in finding that Titlow's counsel was ineffective. Counsel for Titlow argued that the record provides evidence of ineffective counsel and that the Sixth Circuit did not have to defer to the lower court's findings.

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