Multnomah County v. Mehrwein

Summarized by:

  • Court: Oregon Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 04-23-2020
  • Case #: S066445
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Walters, C.J. for the Court; en blanc.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under Article 1, section 8 of the Oregon Constitution, laws restricting speech are facially unconstitutional only if "written in terms directed at the substance of [speech]" unless "within some historical exception." State v. Robertson, 293 Or 402, 412 (1982).

Multnomah County brought this case to validate county campaign finance ordinances (MCC §§ 5.200-203), which capped personal contributions and expenditures.  The trial court found that these ordinances were facially unconstitutional under Article I, section 8 of the Oregon Constitution.  Petitioner assigned error to the trial court’s reliance on Vannatta I, where restrictions on campaign financing were invalidated as facially unconstitutional. See Vannatta v. Kiesling, 324 Or 514 (1997).  On appeal, Petitioner argued that the Court should overturn Vannatta I because its reasoning was inconsistent with Vannatta II, where the Court upheld restrictions on gifts to state officials. See Vannatta v. Oregon Government Ethics Comm., 347 Or 449 (2009).  Laws restricting speech “written in terms directed at the substance of [speech]” are facially unconstitutional unless “within some historical exception.” State v. Robertson, 293 Or 402, 412 (1982).  However, laws that restrict speech only in effect are not facially unconstitutional but may be challenged as-applied.  Because statutory definitions ascertained expenditures as those linked with expressive content, the Court found that the limits on candidate expenditures were “directed at” speech and therefore facially unconstitutional.  However, the Court found that Vannatta I’s reasoning, regarding personal contributions, was unsound because contributions can include actions (e.g., bribes) with no expressive content.  Thus, the Court held that restrictions on individual campaign contributions are not facially unconstitutional under Article I, section 8, but may be challenged as-applied.  Reversed (in part) and remanded (in part).

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