Appeals court restricts Libertarian Party bequest access

Leave a Legacy of Liberty

In a 7-3 ruling handed down on the morning of May 21, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit turned aside the Libertarian National Committee’s (LNC) First Amendment challenge to federal restrictions on the use of a large bequest, as well as its challenge to recently enacted content-based restrictions on the speech of political parties. When former Libertarian Party member Joseph Shaber passed away, leaving the party $235,000, the federal government restricted the party’s access to Shaber’s gift, ruling that it was subject to annual contribution limits for donations that are typically applied to living people. Other donors also stand ready to give the party significant donations, but refrain from doing so because the federal government severely restricts how political parties can use large gifts to express themselves.

Judge Thomas B. Griffith noted in dissent that it is “hard to imagine how” the government’s current restrictions “serve anticorruption goals sufficiently to justify the resulting constitutional burden.” Also dissenting, Judges Gregory G. Katsas and Karen L. Henderson explained that the government’s analysis was “flawed at every turn,” and its proposed standard for evaluating the LNC’s First Amendment claim was “radical.”

“As the court has previously stated, only dire circumstances can necessitate restrictions on the First Amendment,” LNC Chair Nicholas Sarwark stated. “Hearing several appellate judges reaffirm that, even in dissent, is an encouraging sign.”

The Libertarian Party will continue to pursue legal action as appropriate in order to defend its constitutional rights.

“The Libertarian Party is committed to a stalwart defense of the Constitution,” said Executive Director Daniel Fishman. “The Bill of Rights, however, is not just for Libertarians. We look forward to continue working with our allies are as we weigh our options going forward.”

The Libertarian Party is the fastest-growing party in the country. In 2016, presidential candidate Gary Johnson appeared on the ballot in every state and the District of Columbia.

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