U.S. District Court Judge Louise Flanagan, ruling in a lawsuit brought by two political action committees that support anti-abortion candidates, has invalidated parts of North Carolina’s law that provides public financing for judicial campaigns.
The political committees contended that a mechanism in North Carolina’s law was similar to those in an Arizona statute thrown out in a Supreme Court decision, Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett (see Gavel Grab). The judge agreed.
North Carolina was the first state to provide full public financing for judicial campaigns. Under its program, candidates for appellate court seats who participate could get extra funds when they were outspent by candidates who chose not to comply with the limits and rely on private campaign financing instead.
“The court finds that the North Carolina matching funds statute is unduly burdensome and not sufficiently justified to survive First Amendment scrutiny,” Judge Flanagan wrote, according to an Associated Press article.
The court ruling doesn’t end completely the public financing program for candidates in nonpartisan races for the North Carolina Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, which has proven popular.
Under the law, candidates who collect a number of small individual donations and who agree to comply with fundraising restrictions may receive public funds. The North Carolina Board of Elections had previously said it would not provide matching funds because of the Supreme Court’s Arizona Free Enterprise Club ruling.
The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld North Carolina’s public financing law in 2008. The Supreme Court handed down its Arizona Free Enterprise Club decision in 2011. You can learn more about public financing of judicial elections as a reform tool from the JAS issues page on the topic.