April 2, 2014 United States Supreme Court opinions

Northwest, Inc. v Ginsberg

Northwest terminated Ginsberg membership in its frequent flier program. Ginsberg sued alleging several causes of action including breach of the duty of good faith. The district court ruled the good faith claim preempted. The 9th Circuit reversed. The Court unanimously reversed. It held that the Airline Deregulation Act, 49 USC 41713, preempts common law rules which relate to airline services and the good faith claim here is preempted as it seeks to impose terms beyond those agreed to by the parties given Minnesota law does not allow the parties to contract away good faith rights. The Court noted that airlines can contract out of good faith claims in states where the good faith covenant is not imposed by law, the Department of Transportation is authorized to investigate claims of improper termination of program membership and the market will punish airlines which arbitrarily kick people out of their programs.

McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission 

McCutcheon sued the Commission arguing the aggregate limits on campaign contributions violated his First Amendment rights. A three judge panel disagreed and upheld the limits. The Court reversed with a four Justice plurality being joined by a concurrence in judgment and four Justices dissenting. The plurality argued that under the First Amendment, the only interest which justifies limits on contributions in corruption the giving of dollars to candidates or officeholders to obtain favors. The plurality argued that merely gaining influence and access is not corruption and cannot serve to justify limits. The plurality argued that the speech interest protected is the individual rights of contributors not a collective right to receive information or a government interest in influencing election outcomes. The plurality argued that the limits did not advance the interest in preventing corruption  or the appearance of corruption as there was no evidence that people circumvented individual limits by donating to multiple political committees or that the committees even gave a significant amount to candidates. It also rejected equating large donations to corruption noting that supporting political parties is not the sort of thing government can sanction. As there was thus no basis to conclude that the aggregate limits serve the interest asserted, they must be held unconstitutional. Justice Thomas joined in judgment arguing that any limits on contributions were unconstitutional as they limit core political speech and all rationales used by the Court in Buckley have been abandoned over time. Thus, Justice Thomas would simply hold all limits on contribution or expenditures unconditional and joined judgment as these limits are so held. The dissent argued that the interest at stake was the power of the masses to have their messages heard and allowing big money contributions interferes with that interest by allowing big donors to obtain undue influence over legislators and government bodies. It also argued that this decision will allow circumvention of individual limits as donations to parties and committee will now be unlimited. Given the limited success of enforcement actions, this will inevitably lead to more money in campaigns. The dissent would have at most remanded for additional fact finding below. The dissent concluded arguing this decision will devastate campaign reform.

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