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Supreme Court Grants Review of Campaign Contribution Limit

In a case that may greatly impact federal and state campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, a challenge to the constitutionality of Missouri's $1,075 campaign contribution l

January 25, 1999

For Immediate Release
January 25, 1999

Contact Information:
Ken Weine, 212 998-6736

Supreme Court Grants Review of Campaign Contribution Limit
Examining Missouri’s $1,075 limit will involve revisiting Buckley v. Valeo

In a case that may greatly impact federal and state campaign finance laws, the U.S. Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, a challenge to the constitutionality of Missouri’s $1,075 campaign contribution limit. This will mark the first time since the 1976 landmark decision Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld $1,000 contribution caps, that the Court will examine whether limiting individual contributions at approximately $1,000 is allowable under the First Amendment.

Shrink Missouri arrived at the Court after a political organization and a candidate unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of Missouri’s contribution limit in federal district court, and the Eighth Circuit reversed this decision. Campaign finance reformers considered the Eighth Circuit ruling to be a serious setback, noting that the $1,000 contribution limit upheld by the Buckley Court had been the law of the land for over 22 years.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law - which represents Missouri state Representative Joan Bray, a defender of this contribution limit - praised the Supreme Court’s granting of review. “It is the law of dozens of states and cities, and it is federal law, to limit contributions at or near $1,000,” Brennan Center Executive Director E. Joshua Rosenkranz stated. “The Eighth Circuit’s decision to the contrary directly conflicts with Buckley and accordingly demanded Supreme Court review.”

The Brennan Center hopes that Supreme Court review of this case will provide needed guidance. Specifically, the Center believes that recent decisions have revealed great confusion about the appropriate standard of review for evaluating contribution limits, how a state’s interests are established in the defense of limits, and the circumstances in which a court may examine closely the dollar amount of a limit. “At present there is great doctrinal confusion,” Rosenkranz stated. “Legislators and citizens who are drafting laws and initiatives must know how courts will evaluate contribution limits.”

The Brennan Center is a nonprofit institute devoted to discourse and action on issues of justice central to the jurisprudence of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. The Center is engaged in litigation, public education, and scholarship on campaign finance reform throughout the nation.