«ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MOTION TO DISMISS OR AFFIRM PAUL D. CLEMENT Solicitor General THOMASENIA ...»
BCRA’s disclaimer provisions require that a televised electioneering communication include on the screen (1) “the name and permanent street address, telephone number, or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication,” and (2) a statement “that the communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.” 2 U.S.C.
441d(a)(3) (Supp. V 2005); 11 C.F.R. 110.11(b)(3). The communication must also include a statement that the entity funding the communication “is responsible for the content of this advertising,” and that statement must be (1) made orally by a representative of the person making the communication, and (2) printed “for a period of at least 4 seconds” on at least four percent of the television screen. 2 U.S.C. 441d(d)(2) (Supp. V 2005); 11 C.F.R. 110.11(c)(4).
4. Soon after BCRA was enacted, appellant and other plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of numerous BCRA provisions on their face, including the reporting and disclaimer requirements that are at issue in this appeal. In McConnell, this Court rejected the plaintiffs’ facial challenges to those disclosure provisions. See 540 U.S. at 194-202, 230-231.
In upholding the reporting requirements applicable to “electioneering communications,” the Court in McConnell explained that “the important state interests that prompted the Buckley Court to uphold FECA’s disclosure requirements—providing the electorate with information, deterring actual corruption and avoiding any appearance thereof, and gathering the data necessary to enforce more substantive electioneering restrictions—apply in full to BCRA.” 540 U.S. at 196. For that reason, the Court concluded, “Buckley amply supports application of [the] disclosure requirements to the entire range of ‘electioneering communications.’ ” Ibid.
The Court also endorsed the conclusion of the district court in that case that the plaintiffs’ challenge to BCRA’s reporting requirements “ignores the competing First Amendment interests of individual citizens seeking to make informed choices in the political marketplace.” Id. at 197 (quoting McConnell, 251 F. Supp. 2d at 241).
Three other Justices in McConnell, while rejecting much of the Court’s reasoning, agreed that BCRA’s reporting requirements are generally constitutional because they “substantially relate” to the informational interest identified in the Court’s opinion. See id. at 321 (Kennedy, J., concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part); see id. at 286 & n.*.
Consistent with Buckley, the Court in McConnell recognized that, under certain limited circumstances, “compelled disclosures may impose an unconstitutional burden on the freedom to associate in support of a particular cause.” 540 U.S. at 198. The Court explained that, under the governing standard, disclosure may not be required in circumstances where there is a “reasonable probability” that such disclosure “would subject identified persons to ‘threats, harassments, and reprisals.’ ” Id. at 198-199 (quoting Brown v. Socialist Workers ’74 Campaign Comm., 459 U.S. 87, 100 (1982)). The Court agreed with the district court that the evidence in McConnell had “not establish[ed] the requisite ‘reasonable probability’ of harm to any plaintiff group or its members,” but the Court noted that its rejection of the facial challenge to the reporting requirements did “not foreclose possible future challenges to particular applications of that requirement.” Id. at 199.
The Court in McConnell also upheld BCRA’s disclaimer requirements. 540 U.S. at 230-231. Chief Justice Rehnquist, writing for eight Members of the Court (see id. at 224 & n.*), explained that BCRA’s “inclusion of electioneering communications in the [pre-existing disclaimer] regime bears a sufficient relationship to the important governmental interest of ‘shed[ding] the light of publicity’ on campaign financing.” Id. at 231 (quoting Buckley, 424 U.S. at 81).
5. In McConnell, this Court rejected a facial challenge to BCRA § 203, 116 Stat. 91 (2 U.S.C. 441b(b)(2) (Supp. V 2005)), which prohibits corporations or labor unions from using general treasury funds to pay for electioneering communications. 540 U.S. at 204-206.
Four years later, in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 127 S. Ct. 2652 (2007) (WRTL), the Court sustained an as-applied challenge to that prohibition. Two Members of the Court framed the relevant inquiry as whether the advertisements at issue constituted “express advocacy or its functional equivalent.” Id. at 2664 (opinion of Roberts, C.J.). Under their approach, “an ad is the functional equivalent of express advocacy only if the ad is susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.” Id. at 2667. Those two Members concluded that, “[u]nder this test, WRTL’s three ads are plainly not the functional equivalent of express advocacy.” Ibid.
Three other Justices concluded that BCRA § 203 is unconstitutional on its face and would have overruled the Court’s contrary holding in McConnell. Id. at 2684-2687 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment).
6. Appellant Citizens United is a nonprofit Virginia corporation with tax-exempt status under 26 U.S.C.
501(c)(4). J.S. App. 3a. Appellant has produced a film about Senator Hillary Clinton entitled “Hillary: The Movie,” which appellant intends to distribute through theaters, video on-demand broadcasts, and DVD sales.
Ibid. Appellant has planned since at least January 2007 to distribute that film “in all of the early [presidential] primary states.” Hannity & Colmes: Analysis with Dick Morris (Fox News television broadcast Jan. 22, 2007), 2007 WLNR 1299920. Appellant has also produced three television advertisements for the movie.
J.S. App. 3a-5a & nn.2-4.
In December 2007, appellant filed suit in federal district court, challenging BCRA’s application to both the film and the proposed advertisements. See J.S. App. 7aa. With respect to the film itself, appellant contended that BCRA § 203’s ban on the use of general treasury funds for “electioneering communications” is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to “Hillary: The Movie.” See id. at 8a, 10a-11a. With respect to the advertisements for the film, the FEC conceded in the district court that, under this Court’s decision in WRTL, appellant could not constitutionally be foreclosed from financing those advertisements with general treasury funds.
See id. at 14a. The parties disagreed, however, on the question whether BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer provisions were constitutional as applied to the advertisements. See id. at 8a, 14a.
7. The three-judge district court denied appellant’s request for preliminary injunctive relief on both of appellant’s claims. J.S. App. 2a-20a.
a. The district court held that appellant had no substantial likelihood of prevailing on its as-applied challenge with respect to the film itself because the film is the functional equivalent of express advocacy. J.S. App.
9a-14a. The court stated that the film “is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.” Id. at 11a. The jurisdictional statement does not challenge the district court’s denial of preliminary injunctive relief with respect to the movie.
b. The district court held that appellant had also failed to establish the requisite likelihood of success at this stage on its contention that BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer provisions are unconstitutional as applied to appellant’s proposed advertisements. J.S. App. 14a-17a.
The court explained that this Court in McConnell had upheld those provisions “for the ‘entire range of electioneering communications’ set forth in the statute.” Id.
at 15a (quoting McConnell, 540 U.S. at 196). The court rejected appellant’s contention that this aspect of McConnell had been superseded by WRTL, stating that “[t]he only issue in [WRTL] was whether speech that did not constitute the functional equivalent of express advocacy could be banned during the relevant pre-election period.” Ibid. The district court also observed that, in various contexts, this Court “has written approvingly of disclosure provisions triggered by political speech even though the speech itself was constitutionally protected under the First Amendment.” Id. at 16a.
The district court recognized that this Court in McConnell had “suggest[ed] one circumstance in which the requirement to disclose donors might be unconstitutional as-applied—if disclosure would lead to reprisals and thus ‘impose an unconstitutional burden on the freedom to associate in support of a particular cause.’ ” J.S.
App. 17a (quoting McConnell, 540 U.S. at 198). The court explained, however, that while appellant’s “memorandum in support of its motion [for a preliminary injunction] states that there may be reprisals,” appellant had “presented no evidence to back up this bald assertion.” Ibid. The court observed that appellant “is thus in a similar position as the parties in McConnell who made the same assertion but presented no specific evidentiary support.” Ibid.
ARGUMENTThe district court correctly denied appellant’s motion for preliminary injunctive relief, and the court’s decision rests on a straightforward application of settled legal principles. The appeal should therefore be dismissed for lack of a substantial federal question. In the alternative, the judgment of the district court should be affirmed.
1. In determining whether to issue a preliminary injunction, a district court considers the plaintiff ’s likelihood of success on the merits, whether the plaintiff will suffer irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction, the prospect of injury to other parties if an injunction is entered, and the public interest in granting or withholding temporary relief. J.S. App. 8a; see Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 931 (1975). This Court reviews the district court’s application of the preliminary-injunction factors under an abuse-of-discretion standard. See id. at 931-932; see also Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal, 546 U.S. 418, 428 (2006).
In denying appellant’s request for preliminary injunctive relief, the district court relied principally on its determination that appellant had failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits. See J.S. App.
17a-18a. That holding is correct and provides a fully sufficient basis for the district court’s ruling.
In contending that the district court abused its discretion by denying preliminary injunctive relief against enforcement of BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer requirements, appellant bears a particularly heavy burden. Appellant’s effort to alter the status quo by seeking an exemption from BCRA’s coverage is contrary to the established principle that “[t]he purpose of a preliminary injunction is merely to preserve the relative positions of the parties until a trial on the merits can be held.” University of Tex. v. Camenisch, 451 U.S.
390, 395 (1981). In addition, this Court’s holding in McConnell that the challenged reporting and disclaimer provisions are constitutional on their face at a minimum strengthens “[t]he presumption of constitutionality which attaches to every Act of Congress.” Walters v.
National Ass’n of Radiation Survivors, 468 U.S. 1323, 1324 (1984) (Rehnquist, J., in chambers). As Chief Justice Rehnquist explained, “[a]n injunction pending appeal barring the enforcement of an Act of Congress would be an extraordinary remedy, particularly when this Court recently held BCRA facially constitutional.” Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. FEC, 542 U.S. 1305, 1305-1306 (2004) (in chambers) (citing McConnell, 540 U.S. at 189-210).3 In addition, appellant’s claim that it will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary injunctive relief is called into question by the fact that appellant has planned since at least January 2007 to distribute Hillary: The Movie (see p. 9, supra), but waited until December 2007