New challenge on campaign finance declined

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Supreme Court on Tuesday left in place a lower court's decision requiring groups to register as political action committees even if they spend money in federal elections independent of the candidates or political parties.

It was the second time since the court's controversial 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that the justices have passed on a challenge that would again bring the issue of campaign finance to the court.

This summer, it declined to hear a suit from the Republican Party challenging restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act of 2002. That suit, unsuccessful in the lower courts, concerned limits on contributions to political parties known as "soft money," which are at the heart of the act.

On Tuesday, in Keating, et al v. FEC, the court turned down a challenge from, which opposes candidates who favor restrictive campaign finance laws. The group won a big victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it could accept unlimited donations to fund its ads.

But the group appealed another part of the decision, which said it must comply with the disclosure requirements that come with being registered as a PAC.

Eight of the nine members of the court upheld disclosure requirements in the Citizens United case, which allowed unlimited spending by corporations and unions to support or oppose candidates. As is customary, the court gave no reason for declining to hear the challenge.

The group and its supporters decided to declare the glass more than half-full and touted the effects of unlimited contributions.

"Considering where we started - with severe limits on the ability of individuals to join together and pool their funds for political ads - Americans are now much freer to associate with others and speak out for and against candidates," Institute for Justice lawyer Steve Simpson said in a statement.

More than 50 similar groups are now operating as a result of decisions by the courts and the FEC, and outside organizations are spending an unprecedented amount of money in the midterm elections.

Miranda rights at issue

The court did agree to decide what role age should play in whether a criminal suspect must be advised of his Miranda rights when being questioned by police. The case, called J.D.B. v. North Carolina, involves the questioning of a 13-year-old special education student in his principal's office.

Lower courts, including the North Carolina Supreme Court, said the boy did not have to be advised of his rights to remain silent or have legal representation because he was not in police custody when he acknowledged stealing from a nearby suburban home.

The North Carolina court said the Supreme Court's guidance was that age was not a factor in deciding when Miranda protection is extended. Even though relatives were not informed that the police had come to school and the boy - identified in court papers as J.D.B. - was in a closed room with school officials and investigators, he was not in what a reasonable person would consider custody, the majority ruled.

Three justices dissented strongly. "The majority's conclusion stands in stark contrast to our state's public policy of aiding, supporting and protecting juveniles," wrote Justice Edward Thomas Brady.

"The manner in which school officials and law enforcement interrogated J.D.B. more resembles hunters carefully and selectively targeting their prey than a fair juvenile investigation."

It is the second case the court has agreed to hear this term that concerns the questioning of students at school, although in a very different context. Other cases concern whether a warrant is necessary before police try to question victims of sexual assault.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company