An introduction to Constitutional Law 100 Supreme Court cases everyone should know

Randy E. Barnett & Josh Blackman

Buckley v. Valeo (1976) considered the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971. FECA, as it was known, regulated two aspects of campaign finance. First, the law limited contributions to a candidate’s campaign. Second, the law restricted expenditures—that is, money spent by individuals and groups on behalf of a candidate. Shortly after FECA’s enactment, the law was challenged by candidates, contributors, political parties, and others. The lead plaintiff was Senator James L. Buckley of New York who had been elected on the Conservative Party ticket. He would later become a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Supreme Court upheld most of FECA’s restrictions on campaign finance in a long, complicated, and fractured opinion. Chief Justice Burger announced the majority opinion. He found that the O’Brien test did not apply to spending money on political campaigns.

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