Whether An Individual Is A “Political Committee” A Mixed Question Of Law And Fact

The Illinois State Board of Elections found that Victor Santana violated the state Election Code in connection with his financial support of a judicial candidate in a primary election. Santana did not file appropriate organizational or disclosure statements even though he paid in excess of $3,000 for a campaign mailing.

On direct appeal to the appellate court, Santana disputed that he was required to file the reports. The appellate court identified the standard of review of the Elections Board decision and attempted to define the contours of the standard:

This court reviews the decision of an administrative body as a “mixed question of law and fact,” on a “clearly erroneous” standard . . . A mixed question of law and fact involves an analysis of the application of the rule of law to the established facts; the ultimate determination is whether the rule of law is violated . . . The “clearly erroneous” standard is “significantly deferential” to administrative decisions and requires that an agency’s determination will be reversed “only where the reviewing court, on the entire record, is ‘left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed’ . . . The decision of an election board is subject to such deference . . .

In this case, the appellate court affirmed the ruling of the Board, finding no clear error.

I continue to have an intellectual problem with the concept of “mixed question of law and fact.” We are always applying facts to law and law to facts. Every case requires it. Pretending that a mixed question of law and fact requires a different standard of review is a convenience, without a logical rationale, that allows courts to invoke the “clearly erroneous” standard of review. Maybe “clearly erroneous” is the best standard to use in review of an administrative decision. If so, then the court should just say so and tell us why. But using the pervasive notion of a mixed question of law and fact as a reason to invoke a “significantly deferential” standard of review brings a true analysis to a screeching halt.

You can see the whole case, Santana v. State Board of Elections, 1-05-1950 (3/15/07), by clicking here.