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High court turns away challenge to Louisiana casino-contribution ban

By The Associated Press

02.25.03

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court turned back a challenge yesterday to a law that bans Louisiana candidates from taking campaign contributions from casinos or casino groups.

Meanwhile, the Court also refused to hear a case challenging the use of tax-exempt municipal bonds by a religious university in Nashville, Tenn.

In the Louisiana case, casino companies had asked the Court to consider whether the contribution ban was a violation of First Amendment free-speech rights. But the justices, without comment, refused to hear the case.

The Louisiana Supreme Court was sharply divided in upholding the 1996 law, designed to prevent the industry from influencing state politicians.

The state’s former governor, Edwin Edwards, began serving a 10-year prison sentence in October for a scheme to extort millions of dollars from businessmen hoping to get lucrative riverboat casino licenses from the state when he was governor in the 1990s.

“Although the casino industry has an undeniably colorful history, that history provides no valid basis for limiting the First Amendment rights of businesses and employees who operate in today’s highly regulated casino environment,” David O. Stewart, attorney for the casino companies, told the Supreme Court in paperwork.

He said the law “skews public discussion and denies First Amendment rights based on a person’s participation in the casino industry, a legal economic activity.”

Louisiana attorney Gray Sexton said in a court filing that the restriction is limited. Casino executives can volunteer to work on campaigns, spend money independently in a race and urge their employees to support candidates, he said.

The Louisiana Constitution forbids gambling, but the Legislature got around that by legalizing “gaming,” which it limited to video poker, riverboat casinos and a single land-based casino in New Orleans.

Sexton told justices that “gaming is a legalized vice that poses unique dangers in Louisiana” — and that the state had an interest in preventing corruption with campaigns.

“We regret that decision, but we will continue to abide by the law and be the only industry prohibited from making regulated and publicly disclosed campaign contributions,” said Wade Duty, the Louisiana casino association’s executive director.

Seven other states bar contributions from gaming or lottery interests: Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Virginia.

The DKT Liberty Project, an organization with a Libertarian philosophy, said the law is unfair because it does not also restrict anti-gaming forces.

“It does not level the playing field to avoid undue influence. Instead, it ejects a specific group of people from the playing field altogether,” Julia Carpenter, the Washington attorney for the group, told justices.

The case is Casino Association of Louisiana v. Louisiana, 02-466.

Meanwhile, the high court yesterday also refused to hear an appeal on Lipscomb University’s use of tax-exempt municipal bonds to build facilities, clearing the way for other religious institutions in Tennessee to make similar requests.

The decision was hailed by some as a victory for efforts to break down the wall between church and state.

The case dealt with a challenge of Nashville city government’s approval of the Church of Christ-affiliated college’s use of $15 million in bonds more than 10 years ago to build a new library and sports facilities. The school repays the bonds, but receives a lower interest rate because of the tax-exempt status.

“It represents the end of this case, which has been going on for a long time,” Nashville lawyer Bradley MacLean said. “Schools like Lipscomb cannot be discriminated against solely on the basis of their religious affiliation when they seek tax-exempt bond financing to advance their educational purpose.”

In August, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that Nashville’s action “is not direct aid” that would violate the principle of separation of church and state. A 2-1 decision by the appeals court reversed a 2000 ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger that found Nashville’s action violated the separation of church and state.

The suit had slowed progress on issuing tax-exempt bonds in at least two other instances, one involving Father Ryan High School and the other Belmont University. Father Ryan is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and Belmont is a Southern Baptist school.

The 1991 lawsuit was brought by a group called Americans for Religious Liberty. The group’s attorney, Joe Johnston of Nashville, said he was disappointed the court didn’t hear the case.

“This is an indication of another step the Supreme Court has taken in breaking down the wall between church and state that is part of a trend of breaking down 70 years of jurisprudence,” Johnston said.

Nashville officials appeared pleased by the Supreme Court’s action. City Law Director Karl Dean said Nashville “will be guided by the 6th Circuit’s decision in the Lipscomb case now because the Supreme Court refused to hear it.”

Previous

High court wants arguments on Louisiana casino-contribution ban
Justices order state to file opposition arguments even though they haven't decided whether to hear challenge to law barring casinos from donating to political campaigns.  01.22.03

Religious school can use tax-exempt bonds
Federal appeals judges overturn lower court ruling, saying issuing bonds to Nashville, Tenn., college didn't violate First Amendment.  08.16.02

Related

Religious schools' use of tax-free bonds spurs church-state debate
Analysis Some groups claim allowing tax exemption for parochial institutions amounts to state endorsement of religion.  01.22.02

2002-2003 Supreme Court term coverage
Analysis and other coverage of 2002-2003 U.S. Supreme Court term.  10.07.02

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