FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION v. TED CRUZ FOR SENATE et al.
Appeal From The United States District Court For The District Of Columbia
No. 21–12. Argued January 19, 2022—Decided May 16, 2022
During his 2018 Senate reelection campaign and consistent with federal law, see 11 CFR §110.10; 52 U. S. C. §30101(9)(A)(i), appellee Ted Cruz loaned $260,000 to his campaign committee, Ted Cruz for Senate (Committee). To repay these and other campaign debts, campaigns may continue to receive contributions after election day. See 11 CFR §110.1(b)(3)(i). Section 304 of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA) restricts the use of post-election contributions by limiting the amount that a candidate may be repaid from such funds to $250,000. 52 U. S. C. §30116(j). Relevant here, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) has promulgated regulations establishing three rules to implement that limitation: First, a campaign may repay up to $250,000 in candidate loans using contributions made “at any time.” 11 CFR §116.12(a). Second, to the extent the loans exceed $250,000, a campaign may use pre-election funds to repay the portion exceeding $250,000 only if the repayment occurs “within 20 days of the election.” §116.11(c)(1). Third, when the 20-day post-election deadline expires, the campaign must treat any portion above $250,000 as a contribution to the campaign, precluding later repayment. §116.11(c)(2).
The Committee began repaying Cruz’s loans after the 20-day post-election window for repaying amounts over $250,000 had closed. It accordingly repaid Cruz only $250,000, leaving $10,000 of his personal loans unpaid. Cruz and the Committee filed this action in Federal District Court, alleging that Section 304 of BCRA violates the First Amendment and raising challenges to the FEC’s implementing regulation, §116.11. The District Court granted Cruz and his Committee summary judgment on their constitutional claim, holding that the loan-repayment limitation burdens political speech without sufficient justification, and dismissed as moot their challenges to the regulation.
1. Appellees have standing to challenge the threatened enforcement of Section 304. Pp. 3–10.
(a) The Government recognizes that the Committee’s present inability to repay the final $10,000 of Cruz’s loans constitutes an injury in fact both to Cruz and his Committee. It maintains, however, that appellees lack Article III standing because these injuries are not traceable to the threatened enforcement of Section 304, see Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U. S. 555, 560–561. First, the Government argues that appellees knowingly triggered the application of the loan-repayment limitation and thus their injuries are traceable to themselves, not the Government. This Court has never recognized an exception to Article III standing’s traceability requirement for injuries that a party purposely incurs. Moreover, this Court has made clear that an injury resulting from the application or threatened application of an unlawful enactment remains fairly traceable to such application, even if the injury could be described in some sense as willingly incurred. See Evers v. Dwyer, 358 U. S. 202, 204 (per curiam). Cases cited by the Government—Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 568 U. S. 398, and Pennsylvania v. New Jersey, 426 U. S. 660 (per curiam)—do not alter that conclusion. In contrast to those cases, here the appellees’ injuries are directly inflicted by the FEC’s threatened enforcement of the provisions they now challenge. That appellees chose to subject themselves to those provisions does not change the fact that they are subject to them, and will face genuine legal penalties if they do not comply. Finally, the Government’s observation that it should not be blamed for appellees’ injuries because the Committee had a legally available alternative—i.e., repaying Cruz’s loans in full with pre-election funds, within 20 days of the election—misses the point. Demanding that the Committee do so would require it to forgo the exercise of the First Amendment right the Court must assume it has when assessing standing—the right to repay its campaign debts in full, at any time. Pp. 3–6.
(b) The Government next argues that although appellees would have standing to challenge the FEC’s implementing regulation, §116.11, they do not have standing to challenge Section 304 itself. The Government contends that the Committee used pre-election funds to repay the first $250,000, and thus Section 304’s cap on using post-election funds to repay a candidate’s loan does not prohibit repayment of the final $10,000 here. Instead, it is the agency’s regulation—with its 20-day limit—that prevents repayment. Appellees insist that they used post-election funds—in the form of overlimit contributions to the 2018 campaign that were “redesignated” as contributions to the 2024 campaign—to repay Cruz’s loans. Ordinarily, it would not matter whether a plaintiff was challenging the statute’s enforcement or instead the enforcement of a regulation. Here, however, the parties assume that the distinction makes a difference because the subject-matter jurisdiction of the three-judge District Court is limited to actions challenging the enforcement of the statute. See BRCA §304(a). Even under the Government’s account, the present inability of the Committee to repay and Cruz to recover the final $10,000 is traceable to the operation of Section 304 itself. An agency’s regulation cannot “operate independently of” the statute that authorized it. California v. Texas, 593 U. S. ___, ___. Here, the FEC’s 20-day rule was expressly promulgated to implement Section 304. Thus, if Section 304 is invalid and unenforceable, the agency’s 20-day rule is as well, and the remedy appellees sought in the District Court would redress appellees’ harm by preventing enforcement of the agency’s 20-day rule. See Lujan, 504 U. S., at 561. In challenging the FEC’s threatened enforcement of the loan-repayment limitation, through its implementing regulation, appellees may raise constitutional claims against Section 304, the statutory provision that, through the agency’s regulation, is being enforced. Cf. Collins v. Yellen, 594 U. S. ___, ___–___. And because they are challenging “the constitutionality of [a] provision of [BCRA],” §403(a), jurisdiction was proper in the three-judge District Court. Pp. 6–10.
2. Section 304 of BCRA burdens core political speech without proper justification. Pp. 10–22.
(a) The loan-repayment limitation abridges First Amendment rights by burdening candidates who wish to make expenditures on behalf of their own candidacy through personal loans. Restricting the sources of funds that campaigns may use to repay candidate loans increases the risk that such loans will not be repaid in full, which, in turn, deters candidates from loaning money to their campaigns. This burden is no small matter. Debt is a ubiquitous tool for financing electoral campaigns, especially for new candidates and challengers. By inhibiting a candidate from using this critical source of campaign funding, Section 304 raises a barrier to entry—thus abridging political speech. Pp. 10–13.
(b) The Government has not demonstrated that the loan-repayment limitation furthers a permissible goal. Any law that burdens First Amendment freedoms, even slightly, must be justified by a permissible interest. Pp. 13–22.
(i) The only permissible ground for restricting political speech recognized by this Court is the prevention of “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance. See McCutcheon v. Federal Election Comm’n, 572 U. S. 185, 207. Here, the Government argues that the contributions at issue raise a heightened risk of corruption because they are used to repay a candidate’s personal loans. But given that these contributions are already capped at $2,900 per election in order to prevent corruption or its appearance, the approach of adding an additional layer of regulation is a significant indicator that the regulation may not be necessary for the interest it seeks to protect. See id, at 221. Because the Government is defending a restriction on speech, it must do more than “simply posit the existence of the disease sought to be cured”; it must instead point to “record evidence or legislative findings” demonstrating the need to address a special problem. Colorado Republican Federal Campaign Comm. v. Federal Election Comm’n, 518 U. S. 604, 618. “[M]ere conjecture” is “[in]adequate to carry a First Amendment burden.” McCutcheon, 572 U. S., at 210. Yet the Government is unable to identify a single case of quid pro quo corruption in this context, even though most States do not impose a limit on the use of post-election contributions to repay candidate loans. Pp. 13–16.
(ii) In the absence of direct evidence, the Government turns to a scholarly article, a poll, and statements by Members of Congress to show that the contributions used to repay candidate loans carry a heightened risk of at least the appearance of corruption. All of this evidence, however, concerns the sort of “corruption,” loosely conceived, that this Court has repeatedly explained is not legitimately regulated under the First Amendment. Nor is it equivalent to “legislative findings” that demonstrate the need to address a special problem. Pp. 16–19.
(iii) As a fallback argument, the Government analogizes post-election contributions used to repay a candidate’s loans to gifts because they enrich the candidate as opposed to the campaign’s treasury. But this analogy is meaningful only if the baseline is that the campaign will default. The record suggests, however, that winning candidates are commonly repaid in full. For these candidates, post-election contributions bear little resemblance to a gift; they instead restore the candidate to the status quo ante. As for losing candidates, the Government does not provide any anticorruption rationale to explain why contributions to those candidates should be restricted. Finally, the Government argues for deference to Congress’s “legislative judgment” that Section 304 furthers an anticorruption goal. Given scant evidence of corruption, deference to Congress would be especially inappropriate where, as here, the legislative act may have been an effort to “insulate[ ] legislators from effective electoral challenge.” Nixon v. Shrink Missouri Government PAC, 528 U. S. 377, 404 (Breyer, J., concurring). In the end, it remains the role of this Court to decide whether a particular legislative choice is constitutional. Sable Communications of Cal., Inc. v. FCC, 492 U. S. 115, 129. Pp. 19–22.
542 F. Supp. 3d 1, affirmed.
Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, JJ., joined. Kagan, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer and Sotomayor, JJ., joined.
PATEL et al. v. GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eleventh Circuit
No. 20–979. Argued December 6, 2021—Decided May 16, 2022
In 2007, Pankajkumar Patel, who had entered the United States illegally with his wife Jyotsnaben in the 1990s, applied to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for discretionary adjustment of status under 8 U. S. C. §1255, which would have made Patel and his wife lawful permanent residents. Because USCIS was aware that Patel had previously checked a box on a Georgia driver’s license application falsely stating that he was a United States citizen, it denied Patel’s application for failure to satisfy the threshold requirement that the noncitizen be statutorily admissible for permanent residence. §1255(i)(2)(A); see also §1182(a)(6)(C)(ii)(I) (rendering inadmissible a noncitizen “who falsely represents . . . himself or herself to be a citizen of the United States for any purpose or benefit under” state or federal law).
Years later, the Government initiated removal proceedings against Patel and his wife due to their illegal entry. Patel sought relief from removal by renewing his adjustment of status request. Patel argued before an Immigration Judge that he had mistakenly checked the “citizen” box on the state application and thus lacked the subjective intent necessary to violate the federal statute. The Immigration Judge disagreed, denied Patel’s application for adjustment of status, and ordered that Patel and his wife be removed from the country. The Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Patel’s appeal.
Patel petitioned the Eleventh Circuit for review, where a panel of that court held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider his claim. Federal law prohibits judicial review of “any judgment regarding the granting of relief” under §1255. §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). But see §1252(a)(2)(D) (exception where the judgment concerns “constitutional claims” or “questions of law”). The panel reasoned that the factual determinations of which Patel sought review—whether he had testified credibly and whether he had subjectively intended to misrepresent himself as a citizen—each qualified as an unreviewable judgment. On rehearing, the en banc court agreed with the panel. This Court granted certiorari to resolve a Circuit conflict as to the scope of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i).
Held: Federal courts lack jurisdiction to review facts found as part of discretionary-relief proceedings under §1255 and the other provisions enumerated in §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). Pp. 6–17.
(a) This case largely turns on the scope of the word “judgment” as used in §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). In support of the judgment below, Court-appointed amicus defines it as any authoritative decision—encompassing any and all decisions relating to the granting or denying of discretionary relief. By contrast, the Government argues that it refers exclusively to a decision requiring the use of discretion, which the factual findings in this case are not. Patel agrees that “judgment” implies an exercise of discretion but interprets the qualifying phrase “regarding the granting of relief” as focusing the jurisdictional bar on only the Immigration Judge’s ultimate decision whether to grant relief. Everything else, he says, is reviewable. Pp. 6–14.
(1) Only amicus’ definition fits the text and context of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). “ [T]he word ‘any’ has an expansive meaning.” Babb v. Wilkie, 589 U. S. ___, ___, n. 2 (some internal quotation marks omitted). As applied here, “any” means a judgment “ ‘of whatever kind’ ” under §1255 and the other enumerated provisions. United States v. Gonzales, 520 U. S. 1, 5. The word “regarding” has a similarly “broadening effect.” Lamar, Archer & Cofrin, LLP v. Appling, 584 U. S. ___, ___. Thus, §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) encompasses not just “the granting of relief” but also any judgment relating to the granting of relief. Amicus’ reading is reinforced by Congress’ later addition of §1252(a)(2)(D), which preserves review of legal and constitutional questions but makes no mention of preserving review of questions of fact. Moreover, this Court has already relied on subparagraph (D) to all but settle that judicial review of factfinding is unavailable. See Guerrero-Lasprilla v. Barr, 589 U. S. ___; Nasrallah v. Barr, 590 U. S. ___ (2020). Pp. 8–10.
(2) The Government’s and Patel’s interpretations read like elaborate efforts to avoid the text’s most natural meaning. The Government cites dictionary definitions such as “the mental or intellectual process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing” as indicating that “judgment” refers exclusively to a discretionary decision, which it describes as one that is “subjective or evaluative.” Brief for Respondent 12. The factual findings in this case, it says, do not fit that description. The Government is wrong about both text and context. A “judgment” does not necessarily involve discretion, nor does context indicate that only discretionary judgments are covered by §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). Rather than delineating a special category of discretionary determinations, the cited definitions—none of which expressly references discretion—simply describe the decisionmaking process, which might involve a matter that the Government treats as “subjective” or one that it deems “objective.” Using the word “judgment” to describe the fact determinations at issue in this case is perfectly natural. See, e.g., Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc. v. Sandoz, Inc., 574 U. S. 318, 327. To succeed, the Government must show that in context, the kind of judgment to which §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) refers is discretionary. But the text of that provision applies to “any judgment.” Had Congress intended to limit the jurisdictional bar to “discretionary judgments,” it could easily have used that language, as it did elsewhere in the immigration code. The Government’s reliance on Kucana v. Holder, 558 U. S. 233, is inapposite. That case said or implied nothing about review of nondiscretionary decisions. Pp. 10–13.
(3) Neither does Patel’s interpretation square with the text or context of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i). He claims that the phrase “any judgment regarding the granting of relief” refers only to the ultimate grant or denial of relief, leaving all eligibility determinations reviewable. Patel’s interpretation reads “regarding” out of the statute entirely. Patel also fails to explain why subparagraph (B)’s bar should be read differently from subparagraph (C)’s prohibition on reviewing final orders of removal for certain criminal offenses. Given the similarities of those two provisions—each precludes judicial review in the same way and bears the same relationship to subparagraph (D)—there is no reason to think that subparagraph (B) would allow a court to review the factual underpinnings of a decision when subparagraph (C) prohibits just that. Pp. 13–14.
(b) Patel and the Government object that this Court’s interpretation would arbitrarily prohibit review of some factual determinations made in the discretionary-relief context that would be reviewable if made elsewhere in removal proceedings. But the distinction simply reflects Congress’ choice to provide reduced procedural protection for discretionary relief. And while this Court does not decide what effect, if any, its decision has on review of discretionary-relief determinations made outside of removal proceedings, the Court rejects Patel’s and the Government’s contention that the risk of foreclosing such review should change its interpretation here. As the Court has emphasized many times before, policy concerns cannot trump the best interpretation of the statutory text. Pp. 15–17.
(c) As a last resort, Patel and the Government argue that the statute is ambiguous enough to trigger the presumption that Congress did not intend to foreclose judicial review. Here, however, the text and context of §1252(a)(2)(B)(i) clearly indicate that judicial review of fact determinations is precluded in the discretionary-relief context, and the Court has no reason to resort to the presumption of reviewability. P. 17.
971 F. 3d 1258, affirmed.
Barrett, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Alito, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined. Gorsuch, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.