|Protecting citizens' rights in the courts|
For many years, Public Citizen has been involved in litigation concerning electoral reform. In particular, Public Citizen has supported efforts to limit the influence of money on elections and has challenged laws that create barriers to the development of new political parties. Prominent among Public Citizen's concerns is combating the corruption of our political processes that results when the influence of corporate money is brought to bear on the electoral system.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission
This case concerns the constitutionality of provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) that require corporations to fund electioneering communications through segregated funds donated by individuals rather than through their corporate treasury funds. After an initial round of briefing and argument, the Supreme Court in June 2009 ordered additional briefing and argument on whether it should overrule two previous decisions upholding the constitutionality of such laws. Public Citizen is cocounsel for Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, and former Reps. Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan, who were the principal co-sponsors of BCRA, and has joined in submitting two amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in the case.
To read more, click here.
Federal Election Commission v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. (McCain et al. v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc.)
In this case, a Wisconsin anti-abortion group is challenging the constitutionality of the electioneering communications provisions of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act as applied to its television and radio ads attacking Senator Feingold shortly before the 2004 election. Public Citizen Litigation Group is assisting in the representation of Senator John McCain and Representatives Christopher Shays, Martin Meehan, and Tammy Baldwin, who have intervened to defend the law. A three-judge district court held the law unconstitutional as applied in December 2006, and the case is currently on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. It is scheduled for argument on April 25, 2007, and should be decided by June 2007.
Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (MUD) v. Mukasey
In July 2006, Congress renewed Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years as part of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act. In August 2006, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One ("the MUD") immediately sued U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to challenge the Act, and a 3-judge panel was convened in Washington, D.C. to hear the case. Public Citizen, as co-counsel with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, represents three Latino voters in Texas who have intervened as defendants to defend the constitutionality of the Act and protect their voting rights.
As the law stands now, before implementing an election law change, local and state governments must prove to the Department of Justice or a panel of federal judges that the proposed change would not have the purpose or effect of undermining the ability of minority citizens to register and vote. If MUD wins this suit, the only way minority voters would be able to stop the harm caused to their rights by a discriminatory law would be to file a lawsuit and attempt to prove in court that the law violates their rights. Public Citizen is working closely with nonprofit organizations who are representing other defendant-intervenors, including Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, NAACP-LDF, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way.
For recent news on the case, visit the blog of Rick Hasen, a law professor at Loyola Law School.
Suggestions for Improvement of the Code of Judicial Conduct
Public Citizen is active before the United States Congress, the Texas legislature, and courts throughout the country on a wide variety of issues, including access to the civil justice system, campaign finance reform, and protection of the right to due process. It is submitting these comments to address two aspects of the Code of Judicial Conduct: (A) the need for recusal or disqualification based on substantial contributions made to a judges campaign for elected office, and (B) the need to address the problem of what candidates for judicial office may properly say during an election campaign and to regulate candidates whose statements are not permitted by the rules.
Regulation of "Stealth PACs"
Public Citizen has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, supporting the Justice Department's appeal from an Alabama district court decision striking down reporting requirements the Internal Revenue Code imposes on nonprofit groups engaged in "electioneering." These groups, known as "527 groups" because they claim tax-exemption under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, are also called "stealth PACs" because they are permitted to raise unlimited amounts of funds for so-called "issue ads" with little disclosure. The district court's decision unnecessarily threatens even the limited disclosure required by the Internal Revenue Code.
FEC v. Beaumont
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