It’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court could soon revisit bans on corporate contributions directly to candidates. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Three judges of the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the more-than-a-century-old federal ban on direct corporate giving is kosher, even after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.

Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote for the panel:

Citizens United held that in the context of independent expenditures, the Government could not suppress political speech on the basis of the speaker’s corporate identity. In reaching its decision, the Court ... explicitly declined to address the constitutionality of the ban on direct contributions. Nor did the opinion indicate that its “corporations-are-equal-to-people” logic necessarily applies in the context of direct contributions. Leaping to this conclusion ignores the well-established principle that independent expenditures and direct contributions are subject to different standards of scrutiny and supported by different government interests.

The case, U.S. v. Danielczyk , was rooted in the federal prosecution of two Virginia businessmen who directed $156,400 in corporate funds from their firm, Galen Capital, through straw donors to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Senate presidential campaign. A District Court judge in Alexandria threw out the charges last year, finding that Citizens United had rendered unconstitutional the 1907 federal law banning corporate giving to candidates.

The appeals court disagreed. Now the question is, will the Supreme Court take the case? If four justices agree that it should, Danielczyk could be heard during the high court’s next term, which begins in October. (The appeals court could also take the rare step of hearing the case again en banc — with all 16 4th Circuit judges participating.)

Citizens United was decided by a five-justice majority; the question is, do at least four of them agree that its principles should be extended to direct donations to candidates, not merely limited to independent expenditures? I wouldn’t bet against it.