Supreme Court Upholds Campaign Law That Hinders Pro-Lifers

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 11, 2003   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court Upholds Campaign Law That Hinders Pro-Lifers

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 11, 2003

Washington, DC ( — The Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, upheld a major campaign finance reform law that pro-life groups say hinders their political efforts.

As she has so many times before — including a landmark case striking down a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban — Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion that upheld the 2002 law.

O’Connor and the court’s liberal justices disagreed with conservatives who said the law undermines significant free speech protections given in the First Amendment.

The impact will be felt both organizations on both sides of key pro-life issues.

"By upholding this ban, the Court prohibits public-interest groups from telling the public where candidates stand on such vital issues as abortion, cloning, and euthanasia," said James Madison Center for Free Speech General Counsel James Bopp.

One of the provisions from the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that most concerns pro-life groups is a ban on election-oriented advertisements in the weeks leading up to an election.

The ban prohibits political groups from mentioning a candidate’s name in an advertisement within 30 days of any state’s primary election and 60 days of a general election if they are paid for with "soft money.”

For example, an advertisement from an organization such as National Right to Life or the Family Research Council criticizing or applauding a member of Congress on a key pro-life vote during that time period would be illegal.

"Different states have their congressional primaries in different months — as early as March, and as late as September," explained NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson.

As a result, Johnson explained, ads concerning candidates’ voting records would be illegal in at least one state from February 5th through the November general election.

Bopp said that the prohibition will also prevent groups from airing ads promoting legislation. Ads encouraging a named member of Congress to support pro-life legislation, for example, would be prohibited.

"During all of these blackout periods, all of the members of both houses of Congress would continue to vote on numerous issues of pro-life concern," Johnson added.

As Congress considered the campaign finance legislation, strange bedfellows worked together in an attempt to defeat it. Pro-life groups like the Christian Coalition and Concerned Women for America found themsleves on the same side as abortion advocates such as the ACLU.

"The Court’s affirmation of BCRA severely damages citizen participation in the American system of government and fundamentally alters American political discourse without any constitutional warrant and in direct contravention of constitutional mandate," Bopp concluded.

"The Court and Congress have empowered incumbent politicians, corporations owning media outlets, and wealthy individuals, at the expense of people of ordinary means."