Thursday, April 09, 2015


Hawaii campaign contribution case still awaiting 9th Circuit ruling after 18 months

by Larry Geller

18 months ago today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in two appeals to a Hawaii case concerning disclosure of campaign contributions and the burden or ban on political contributions under various Hawaii laws.

Now called Yamada v. Snipes, the case was originally heard by Judge J. Michael Seabright in Hawaii District Court as Yamada Et Al. v. Kuramoto Et Al, also referred to as the A-1 A-Electrician case (1:10-cv-00497-JMS-LEK).

As a non-attorney I was nevertheless impressed with the clarity of the District Court arguments and felt that the 9th Circuit would find little difficulty in coming up with an opinion one way or the other. At the District Court level, the State defendants appeared to present a very weak case, while the plaintiffs were direct and incisive in their presentation. From an earlier article:

The heart of the hearing took place at about 11:00 a.m. in a spirited back-and-forth between Judge Seabright and [plaintiff] attorney [Randy] Elf. It was clear that Seabright had studied related cases from other circuits as well as Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that blew the lid off of corporate campaign contributions. During the discussion Elf demonstrated a command of the core issues that was impressive, and which helped Seabright to clarify his own understanding.

For details, please see Hawaii’s campaign spending laws go before the 9th Circuit in Honolulu on Wednesday (October 9, 2015).

Here is what I wrote at the time of the ruling in District Court before Judge J. Michael Seabright:

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Hawaii plaintiffs Jimmy Yamada and Russell Stewart filed a challenge to the constitutionality of several Hawaii campaign spending laws. Judge Seabrook granted an injunction in part, reasoning that the government has no valid constitutional interest in regulating the contributions that plaintiffs want to make to the Aloha Family Alliance – Political Action Committee.

Specifically, Seabright held that there is no legitimate government interest in restricting contributions to organizations that engage only in independent spending, as the Aloha Family Alliance PAC does. He declined to declare the entire law unconstitutional at the preliminary injunction stage.

[Judge does not strike down Hawaii law but grants partial injunction in campaign spending limit challenge, 10/7/2010]

The case on appeal is not the same as was heard before Judge Seabright. It’s impossible to predict, even after listening to the appeals court’s questioning, which way they will decide.

But 18 months does seem a bit excessive, even if they’re considering this case on Hawaiian Time.


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