Court Gives Final Approval for Appeals Court Ruling in Bequest Case

A federal judge Monday denied a Federal Election Commission (FEC) motion to reconsider his decision to send a case involving a bequest to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC) to the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“We are pleased that the LNC will now be able to make its constitutional arguments to the D.C. Circuit, as Congress intended” said Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) Legal Director Allen Dickerson, co-counsel in the case. “The district court was correct to certify the LNC’s case, and correct in reaffirming that ruling.”

“The District Court is correct that the government’s suppression of an individual’s choice to leave a political legacy raises serious First Amendment questions,” said co-counsel Alan Gura “We look forward to defending the right of free speech before the full Court of Appeals.”

The case stems from Tennessee resident Raymond Burrington, who passed away in 2007 and left in his will $217,734 to the Libertarian National Committee (LNC).  Because the amount exceeded the annual limit on contributions to national party committees, the LNC was forced to place funds in escrow.  Since then, the committee has only been allowed to withdraw amounts totaling the annual contribution limit.

Under a provision in the Federal Election Campaign Act, Judge Wilkins certified the constitutional question raised by the case to the en banc United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in early March.  In response, the FEC filed a motion to alter or amend his decision, claiming that applying contribution limits to the bequest does not violate the First Amendment, that the court applied strict scrutiny instead of “closely draw” scrutiny, and that the ruling could lead to a proliferation of similar litigation.

In his opinion denying the motion, Judge Wilkins wrote “The Court fails to see how it committed a ‘clear error’ of law by pursuing a course of action that the agency counsel agreed was legally permissible when specifically asked.  The fact that the agency now appears to be having second thoughts about its position does not satisfy the Rule 59(e) standard.”

The lawsuit seeks both the full amount of the bequest and also the ability to implement a planned giving program that would solicit bequests exceeding the annual contribution limit.

The suit hinges on the argument that because there is no reasonable possibility of any quid-pro-quo agreement between candidates, parties, and deceased contributors, there is no corruption interest justifying any law preventing the LNC from having immediate access to the bequest.

A copy of the ruling can be found here.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.