A-1 A-Lectrician v. Snipes

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 05-20-2015
  • Case #: 12-15913
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Kozinksi and Watford
  • Full Text Opinion

Statutory definitions are not considered vague when a limiting construction is provided for the court to apply to challenged terms.

Jimmy Yamada and Russell Stewart wanted to contribute $2,500 each to the Aloha Family Alliance-Political Action Committee (“AFA-PAC”), a registered “noncandidate committee,” prior to the 2010 general election. A-1 A-Lectrician, Inc. (“A-1”), a for-profit corporation, also made political contributions during the election, along with purchasing newspaper advertisements. Hawaii Revised Statute (“HRS”) § 11-358 forbids contributions of more than $1,000 to a “noncandidate committee.” HRS § 11-302 defined a “noncandidate committee” as one that is organized for “the purpose of making or receiving contributions” to influence elections. A-1 paid more than $50,000 to several candidates and committees, and over $6,000 in advertisement costs. Yamada, Stewart, and A-1 challenged the constitutionality of several Hawaii statutes regarding campaign contributions, including the requirement that A-1 register as a noncandidate committee and fulfill the disclaimer requirement that attaches when noncandidate committees publish advertisements. The district court preliminarily enjoined the contribution limitation on Yamada and Stewart, and denied A-1’s motion for preliminary injunction. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court permanently enjoined the contribution limitation, and rejected A-1’s constitutional challenges. A-1 appealed, arguing that several definitions related to Hawaii campaign finance law were vague, including “expenditure” and “noncandidate committee.” The Ninth Circuit held that Hawaii’s definitions of “expenditure” and “noncandidate committee” were not vague due to the requirement of “express advocacy” in any communication to influence elections. The panel found that this requirement eliminated vagueness by providing a limiting construction for the district court to apply to the terms, while maintaining consistency with the applicable statute. The panel also found that the disclaimer requirement was constitutional because it served an important governmental interest. AFFIRMED in Part, REVERSED in Part, and REFERRED to the Appellate Commissioner with instructions.

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