Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), intended “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education,” 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A), permits parents and legal guardians to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs if they prevail in certain statutorily prescribed proceedings. In calculating a fee award, courts consider the “number of hours reasonably expended in litigation” and the “reasonable hourly rate,” determined in part by reference to the prevailing market rate for attorneys’ services. The plaintiffs, having prevailed in IDEA proceedings, sought attorneys’ fees and costs related to those proceedings and an award of “fees-on-fees” for work done in connection with their pursuit of fees for the IDEA proceedings. The district court granted both requests, but did not award the full amounts requested. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part, agreeing that the district court erred in excluding certain hours spent at “settlement conferences.” The court upheld determinations that the IDEA matters were not “complex federal litigation” to which the Laffey Matrix should apply and to apply the same rate to the initial fee and fees-on-fees awards. Plaintiffs forfeited claims raised for the first time on appeal: that their affidavits independently demonstrated a prevailing IDEA market rate that aligns with the Laffey Matrix and that the rates awarded were insufficient to attract competent counsel. View "Reed v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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PAG sought a preliminary injunction against FEC's rule prohibiting unauthorized political committees, like PAG, from using candidates’ names in the titles of their websites and social media pages. The district court denied PAG's motion. The court concluded that PAG is entitled to a preliminary injunction because there is a substantial likelihood that, as applied to PAG, the FEC’s naming restrictions in 11 C.F.R. 102.14(a) violate the First Amendment. In this case, the restriction, as applied to PAG, is a content-based ban on speech that likely violates the First Amendment. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court’s denial of PAG’s motion for a preliminary injunction and remanded for the district court to enter a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of section 102.14(a) against PAG’s websites and social media pages. View "Pursuing America's Greatness v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and her husband, eligible voters residing in Florida, filed suit against the FEC, alleging that a provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30110, violated the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. The district court declined to certify any questions and granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment. The court did not think that a district court may decline to certify a constitutional question simply because the plaintiff is arguing against Supreme Court precedent so long as the plaintiff mounts a non-frivolous argument in favor of overturning that precedent. Given the court's statement in Wagner v. Fed. Election Comm’n, see note 5 supra, and the uncertain meaning of the footnote in Cal. Med., the court cannot fault the district court for invoking “settled law” in declining to certify plaintiffs’ First Amendment question under section 30110. Although the district court declined to certify the Fifth Amendment issue on the ground that plaintiffs’ supporting arguments contradicted settled law, the court reached the same result for a different reason – namely, that the issue plaintiffs raise about the Fifth Amendment is a result of regulations, not the Act. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment declining to certify plaintiffs' Fifth Amendment question; the court reversed the district court's decision not to certify plaintiffs’ First Amendment question and to grant summary judgment to the Commission; and the court remanded for the district court to certify that question to the court of appeals en banc. View "Holmes v. FEC" on Justia Law
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The FEC filed suit alleging that former Senator Larry E. Craig, his campaign committee, and the committee’s Treasurer converted campaign funds to the Senator’s personal use in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30109(a)(4). The district court granted summary judgment to the FEC and ordered the Senator to disgorge $197,535 and to pay a civil penalty of $45,000. Appellants had spent campaign funds to pay legal fees the Senator incurred in connection with efforts to withdraw his guilty plea to a criminal charge of disorderly conduct. The court affirmed the judgment, concluding that the district court did not err in finding that appellants unlawfully converted campaign contributions to personal use by spending them on Senator Craig’s effort to withdraw his guilty plea. Nor did the district court abuse its discretion by ordering disgorgement to the United States Treasury and payment of the civil penalty. View "FEC v. Craig for U.S. Senate" on Justia Law
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The Institute, a Section 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, filed suit against the FEC, challenging the constitutionality of the disclosure requirements of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, 52 U.S.C. 20104(f). The district court denied the Institute's request to convene a three-judge district court pursuant to the statutory provision that requires three-judge district courts for constitutional challenges to the BCRA. On the merits, the district court held that the Institute's claim was unavailing under McConnell v. FEC, and Citizens United V. FEC. The Institute appealed. The court concluded that, because the Institute’s complaint raises a First Amendment challenge to a provision of BCRA, 28 U.S.C. 2284(a) entitles it to a three-judge district court. In this case, the Institute’s attempt to advance its as-applied First Amendment challenge is not “essentially fictitious, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, and obviously without merit.” Therefore, section 2284 “entitles” the Institute to make its case “before a three-judge district court.” Accordingly, the court reversed and vacated the district court's judgment, remanding for further proceedings. View "Independence Institute v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging the FEC’s rule requiring corporations and labor organizations to disclose only those donations “made for the purpose of furthering electioneering communications.” At issue in this appeal is whether the rule survives Step Two of the Chevron framework and State Farm's arbitrary and capricious test, Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n, Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. The court held that the FEC’s purpose requirement satisfies both Chevron Step Two and State Farm review has the benefit both of being a correct application of black letter administrative law and of forestalling to some other time an answer to the important constitutional questions bubbling beneath the surface of this case. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's judgment. View "Van Hollen, Jr. v. FEC" on Justia Law

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The Commission imposed an $8,690 fine on the Combat Veterans and its treasurer, David Wiggs, in his official capacity, for failing to meet three required reporting deadlines under the Federal Election Campaign Act, 2 U.S.C. 431 et seq. Combat Veterans filed suit against the Commission, contesting the fine and charging that the Commission’s procedural errors deprived it of the power to act. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court rejected all of Combat Veterans’ claims and granted judgment to the Commission. At issue, among other things, was whether the Commission’s voting procedures may contravene the Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30109(a)(2). The court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding that the Commission’s use of its voting procedure was harmless even if it was in error. In this case, Combat Veterans has failed to show that the Commission’s use of its allegedly flawed voting procedure caused it any prejudice. The court rejected Combat Veterans' remaining challenges, agreeing with the district court's explanations. View "Combat Veterans for Congress v. FEC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, individual government contractors, challenged 52 U.S.C. 30119(a)(1) as violating their First Amendment and equal protection rights. 52 U.S.C. 30119(a)(1) barred individuals and firms from making federal campaign contributions while they negotiate or perform federal contracts. The court rejected plaintiffs' challenge because the concerns that spurred the original bar remain as important today as when the statute was enacted, and because the statute is closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of associational freedoms. The court stated that there is no dispute regarding the legitimacy or importance of the interests that support the contractor contribution ban. The ban is not only supported by the compelling interest in protecting against quid pro quo corruption and its appearance, it is also supported by the obviously important interest in protecting merit-based public administration commonly at issue in cases involving limits on partisan activities by government employees. Further, the statute employs means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgement of associational freedoms, and does not deprive the plaintiffs of equal protection of the laws View "Wagner v. Federal Election Comm'n" on Justia Law

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The Federal Election Campaign Act, 2 U.S.C. 441b, sets forth ground rules for the participation of corporations in the electoral process. The Act permits limited corporate participation through separate segregated funds, a type of political action committee. Stop this Insanity and others (collectively, "plaintiffs") filed suit alleging that the restrictions on the segregated funds were unconstitutional. The court concluded that plaintiffs would like to use its segregated fund to solicit the entire public while concealing its expenses for such solicitation. Even assuming plaintiffs' constitutional analysis is correct under Citizens United v. FEC, it is far from a foregone conclusion that the Act is severable in a way that would eliminate the restrictions but leave intact the partial waiver on disclosure. The court concluded that it need not make this determination because plaintiffs' arguments failed on the merits. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of the motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. View "Stop This Insanity, Inc., et al. v. Federal Election Commission" on Justia Law
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This appeal concerned plaintiff's filing of an administrative complaint with the FEC alleging that various organizations violated election laws during their efforts to keep him off the ballot. The FEC dismissed the complaint and the district court subsequently granted summary judgment against plaintiff, later denying his motion to alter or amend its judgment. Plaintiff appealed. The court rejected plaintiff's claim of competitor standing where he sought to compel FEC enforcement against his opponents years after the campaign had run its course, and claim of informational standing where he asserted an injury that was not sufficiently concrete to confer standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal and concluded that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit because plaintiff lacked standing. View "Nadar v. FEC" on Justia Law