N.C. Right to Life Committee Fund v. Leake

Decision Date01 May 2008
Docket NumberNo. 07-1454.,07-1454.
Citation524 F.3d 427
PartiesNORTH CAROLINA RIGHT TO LIFE COMMITTEE FUND FOR INDEPENDENT POLITICAL EXPENDITURES; North Carolina State Political Action Committee; W. Russell Duke, Jr., Plaintiffs-Appellants, and Barbara Jackson, Plaintiff, v. Larry LEAKE, in his official capacity as the Chairperson of the North Carolina Board of Elections; Lorraine G. Shinn, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina State Board of Elections; Charles Winfree, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina State Board of Elections; Genevieve C. Sims, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina State Board of Elections; Robert Cordle, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina State Board of Elections; Roy Cooper, in his official capacity as the Attorney General for the State of North Carolina; C. Colon Willoughby, Jr., in his official capacity as District Attorney for Wake County; Robert Stuart Albright, in his official capacity as District Attorney for Guilford County, and as a representative of the class of District Attorneys in the State of North Carolina, Defendants-Appellees, James R. Ansley; Common Cause North Carolina, Intervenors-Defendants-Appellees, and Keith M. Kapp; J. Michael Booe, in his official capacity as Vice-Chairperson of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; David Benbow, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; David Yates Bingham, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Gilbert W. Chichester, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Renny W. Deese, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Jim R. Funderburk, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; John E. Gehrig, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Isaac Heard, Jr., in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Patricia L. Holland, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Margaret Hunt, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Margaret McCreary, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; David T. Phillips, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Fred D. Poisson, Sr., in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Donald C. Prentiss, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Richard Roose, in his official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Jan H. Samet, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee; Judy D. Thompson, in her official capacity as a member of the North Carolina Bar Administrative Committee, Defendants. Democracy North Carolina; American Judges Association; Campaign Legal Center, Incorporated; Center for Civic Policy; Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action; Illinois Campaign for Political Reform; League of Women Voters of the United States; League of Women Voters of North Carolina; Progressive Maryland; Public Citizen, Incorporated; Reform Institute; S. Gerald Arnold; G.K. Butterfield; J. Phil Carlton; Henry E. Frye; K. Edward Greene; Harry C. Martin; Francis I. Parker; Willis P. Whichard, Amici Supporting Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: James Bopp, Jr., Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, Terre Haute, Indiana, for Appellants. Alexander McClure Peters, Special Deputy Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice, Raleigh, North Carolina; Deborah Goldberg, Brennan Center for Justice, New York, New York, for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Anita Y. Woudenberg, Josiah Neeley, Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom, Terre Haute, Indiana, for Appellants. Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General, Susan K. Nichols, Special Deputy Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice, Raleigh, North Carolina; Suzanne Novak, Brennan Center for Justice, New York, New York; James G. Exum, Jr., Manning A. Connors, Smith Moore, L.L.P., Greensboro, North Carolina, for Appellees. Erwin Chemerinsky, Duke University School of Law, Durham, North Carolina; Anita S. Earls, Durham, North Carolina, for Democracy North Carolina, Amicus Supporting Appellees. J. Gerald Hebert, Paul S. Ryan, Tara Malloy, The Campaign Legal Center, Inc., Washington, D.C., for American Judges Association, Campaign Legal Center, Incorporated, Center for Civic Policy, Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, League of Women Voters of the United States, League of Women Voters of North Carolina, Progressive Maryland, Public Citizen, Incorporated, Reform Institute, Amici Supporting Appellees. Bryce L. Friedman, James G. Gamble, Elaine M. Divelbliss, Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, L.L.P., New York, New York, for S. Gerald Arnold, G.K. Butterfield, J. Phil Carlton, Henry E. Frye, K. Edward Greene, Harry C. Martin, Francis I. Parker, Willis P. Whichard, Amici Supporting Appellees.

Before MICHAEL and TRAXLER, Circuit Judges, and JAMES P. JONES, Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge MICHAEL wrote the opinion, in which Judge TRAXLER and Judge JONES joined.

OPINION

MICHAEL, Circuit Judge:

The plaintiffs, a former candidate for the North Carolina Supreme Court and two political action committees, challenge the constitutionality of three provisions of North Carolina's Judicial Campaign Reform Act, N.C. Sess. Laws 2002-158, codified at N.C. Gen.Stat. § 163-278.61 et seq. (the Act). The Act, which became law in 2002, creates a system of voluntary public financing for judicial candidates at the appellate level. The district court denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction prior to the 2006 general election and ultimately dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Because we conclude that the challenged provisions are permissible campaign finance regulations and are consistent with the First Amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 96 S.Ct. 612, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976), and McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93, 124 S.Ct. 619, 157 L.Ed.2d 491 (2003), we affirm.

I.

North Carolina's Judicial Campaign Reform Act creates a system of optional public funding for candidates seeking election to the state's supreme court and court of appeals. The Act's stated purposes are to "ensure the fairness of democratic elections" and "to protect the constitutional rights of voters and candidates from the detrimental effects of increasingly large amounts of money being raised and spent to influence the outcome of [judicial] elections." N.C. Gen.Stat. § 163-278.61. To further these purposes, the Act creates the North Carolina Public Campaign Fund (the Fund), which distributes public funds to eligible candidates who choose to participate in the system (participating candidates). Id. In exchange for the public funds, participating candidates must agree to abide by restrictions on the amount of contributions they accept and the amount of campaign expenditures they make. Those candidates who decline participation (nonparticipating candidates) do not receive public funding and are not bound by the additional restrictions accepted by participating candidates.

In August 2005 the plaintiffs filed an action in U.S. District Court in North Carolina against several state officials connected with the administration and enforcement of the Act (collectively, the state). The complaint asserted that several provisions of the Act were unconstitutional. On October 26, 2006, shortly before the November 2006 general election, the district court denied the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction, reasoning that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on any of their constitutional claims. In March 2007 the court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for failure to state a claim. The plaintiffs appeal the dismissal order, and our review is de novo, Smith v. Frye, 488 F.3d 263, 266 (4th Cir.2007).

II.

We begin our review by setting forth the particulars of North Carolina's public financing system for judicial campaigns at the appellate level.

As a threshold matter any candidate seeking to participate in the public funding system must meet two statutory conditions. First, the candidate must satisfy the Act's eligibility requirements, which are designed to measure whether the candidate has a base of support in the electorate. See N.C. Gen.Stat. § 163-278.64(b). Specifically, a candidate must collect "qualifying contributions" from at least 350 registered voters, and those contributions must total at least thirty but no more than sixty times the filing fee for the office. Id. In 2006 a supreme court candidate needed to raise between $37,140 and $74,280.1 Second, each participating candidate must agree to certain restrictions on campaign fundraising and expenditures, including a limitation of spending to the total of the amounts disbursed from the Fund plus the amounts raised as qualifying contributions. Id. § 163-278.64(d).

After satisfying these two conditions, a participating candidate becomes certified to receive public funds. A certified candidate receives an automatic (base) disbursement of public funds if the candidate is opposed in the general election. Id. § 163-278.65(b). In 2006 the base amount of funding for a contested state supreme court campaign was $216,650, which equaled 175 times the filing fee for that office. A certified candidate does not receive an automatic disbursement of funds for a primary election, but the...

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