How can a Supreme Court decision be momentous if it is written as narrowly as possible, deferring to the future the really important questions? While that paradox may exist in other areas of the Court’s docket, it certainly describes the Court’s trilogy on election law this year.
It started in January, with Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Federal Election Commission, 546 U.S. __ (2006), 126 S. Ct. 1016 (2006), where the Court unanimously remanded the case to the district court for consideration of an “as applied” challenge to the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, but conspicuously offered no guidance on what sort of standard should govern such “as applied” challenges. It continued in the last week of the term, with two deeply fractured decisions: Randall v. Sorrell, 126 S. Ct. 2479 (2006), in which the Court invalidated Vermont’s excessively strict limits on campaign contributions without indicating where it eventually would draw the line; and League of Latin American Citizens v. Perry, 126 S. Ct. 2594 (2006), in which the Court rejected the claim that the mid-decade redistricting of Texas’s congressional delegation was unconstitutional just because it was motivated by a Republican desire to gain seats at the expense of Democrats, while the Court kept open the possibility that the Court will invalidate a redistricting plan when and if plaintiffs can show a measurable injury from such partisan motivations.
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