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Law School Case Brief

N.H. Right to Life PAC v. Gardner - 99 F.3d 8 (1st Cir. 1996)

Rule:

When a party launches a pre-enforcement challenge to a statute that provides for criminal penalties and claims that the statute, on its face, abridges U.S. Const. amend. I rights, two potential injuries must be considered. First, there is the injury that attends the threat of enforcement. It is not necessary that a person expose herself to arrest or prosecution under a statute in order to challenge that statute in a federal court. A credible threat of present or future prosecution itself works an injury that is sufficient to confer standing, even if there is no history of past enforcement. The second type of injury is peculiar to the U.S. Const. amend. I context. In such cases, an actual injury can exist when the plaintiff is chilled from exercising her right to free expression or forgoes expression in order to avoid enforcement consequences. In such situations the vice of the statute is its pull toward self-censorship.

Facts:

Perturbed by the corrosive effect of money on the electoral process, New Hampshire enacted campaign finance reform legislation capping a political action committee's ability to make "independent expenditures" at $ 1,000 per election.The statutes also contained criminal penalties and suppressed political speech protected by U.S. Const. amend. I. Plaintiff New Hampshire Right to Life Political Action Committee (N-PAC) challenged the constitutionality of the New Hampshire limitation, arguing that the statutory scheme violates the First Amendment. It also sought a preliminary injunction restraining the government defendants from enforcing these statutes against it. The district court denied the political committee's request for an injunction against the government and sua sponte dismissed N-PAC's case, holding that the political committee lacked standing. 

Issue:

Did the political action committee lack standing to bring a pre-enforcement action challenging a state law that capped political committee's ability to make "independent expenditures?"

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the district court's judgment. The Court held that the PAC had standing to facially challenge the statute limiting election expenditure that directly threatened the PAC's customary activities and constitutionally protected political speech. It also noted that the government did not demonstrate that the statute was moribund or not subject to enforcement. Lastly, the Court held that the limitation on independent expenditures plainly violated the First Amendment and, because of this, there was no need to address the injunction request.

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