AZ Supreme Court explains its decision on campaign contribution limits

gavelHey, maybe we can get the Arizona Supreme Court to reveal how it voted on its order upholding the appeal from the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts sub silentio without an opinion. I am certain the vote wasn’t unanimous.

The Arizona Supreme Court today, some five months after it upheld the new campaign finance limits law enacted by the Tea-Publican controlled Arizona legislature — fortuitously timed to coincide with the U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC — finally explained its reasoning in a rare 3-2 split decision. The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) reports, State Supreme Court explains ruling on contribution limits:

In a rare split decision, the Arizona Supreme Court explained today that a law setting new contribution limits is valid because voters in 1998 would have set specific amounts into statute if they wanted them fixed.

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Justices Ann Scott Timmer, Robert Brutinel, and John Pelander comprised the majority and gave a host of reasons to show how they interpreted the intent of the voters who passed the Citizens Clean Elections Act.

“First and foremost, the voters used a percentage for calculating contribution limits for nonparticipating candidates,” Timmer wrote for the majority. “Application of a percentage to a given amount is characteristic of a formula.”

At issue was whether the Clean Elections Act fixed campaign contribution limits at 80 percent of what they were in 1998 or if the law in question, A.R.S. 16-941(B), simply provides a formula. The Citizens Clean Elections Commission sued to block HB2593, a 2013 law that eliminated aggregate contribution limits and increased individual contribution limits.

The new limits allow candidates for statewide and legislative office to raise thousands of dollars more each election.  The Citizens Clean Elections Commission wanted the limits blocked, saying  the 1998 law set clear limits on donations.

The court’s written explanation came almost five months after it upheld  the law.  In keeping with most election law decisions the court ruled quickly and issued its reasoning later. The split decision was the first one since 2011, and the court has split roughly only 5 percent of the time since 2007

Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales and Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch disagreed with their colleagues, saying it strains belief to conclude “voters intended to tie the contribution limits prospectively to eighty percent of whatever amounts the Legislature choose to set” in statute.

“The majority justifies its conclusion by squinting to find clues of the voters’ intent from textual arguments that are at best inconclusive,” Bales wrote.

 Read the Opinion in CLEAN ELECTIONS et al v. HON. BRAIN/BENNETT et al. Here (.pdf).

What today’s court opinions demonstrate is that elections have consequences, and the importance of Democrats winning the governorship (and presidency) to prevent the stacking of the courts with conservative activist judges who will disregard the law (a citizens initiative) and the Constitution. Jan Brewer appointed the three judges in the majority. Judicial Appointments – Official Website of Arizona State Governor.

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