Supreme Court Sends Pro-Life Group’s Campaign Finance Suit to Appeals

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 21, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court Sends Pro-Life Group’s Campaign Finance Suit to Appeals

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 21, 2006

Washington, DC ( — The Supreme Court on Tuesday sent back to a federal appeals court a pro-life group’s case challenging an aspect of the federal campaign finance law that prohibits organizations from taking out ads with the name of a candidate for office shortly before a primary or general election.

The justices instructed the lower court to determine which aspects of the 2002 campaign finance law had been applied in an unconstitutional manner. The appeals court previously dismissed the challenge and cited the Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling upholding the law.

However, the high court instructed the appeal court that its ruling did not prohibit future challenges to the law or its application.

In 2004, Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) took out newspaper ads urging citizens to contact their U.S. senators and urge them not to filibuster Bush’s pro-life judicial nominees.

However, the ads ran afoul of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that bars political groups from mentioning the names of federal candidates 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.

The ads are prohibited because WRTL is a nonprofit corporation and corporations and unions can’t use their money for such ads in that timeframe.

WRTL filed a lawsuit to overturn the provisions and it made its way to the Supreme Court.

The case now heads back to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and, once it determines if the law was misapplied in this case, it could head back to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

As with other issues affecting pro-life groups, the members of the court seemed divided on the 2002 law.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has been replaced by Justice Samuel Alito, spoke in favor of the ad ban during hearings on WRTL’s case. On the other hand Chief Justice John Roberts questioned its legitimacy.

The Supreme Court previously ruled 5-4 in 2003 to uphold the provision but WRTL says the it should not be used to restrict ads from groups engaging in lobbying whose ads are unrelated to the election.

Justice Stephen Breyer told Jim Bopp, the pro-life attorney representing WRTL that there is nothing new in this case from the 2003 decision.

But Bopp said the law is being applied in an unconstitutional manner.

"There is an immediate need to influence how government is regulating and taxing us,” Bopp said. "There’s more to government than elections.”

Roberts indicated that the high court couldn’t rule in 2003 that specific groups could challenge the application of the law and then disallow those groups from filing lawsuits as WRTL did.

In the 2003 ruling, O’Connor joined Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Breyer in upholding the law and the ad band and all of them spoke in favor of the law in last month’s hearing.

Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy spoke against the provision and Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia and Kennedy in dissenting in 2003.

Ironically pro-abortion groups including NARAL and the Alliance for Justice filed legal briefs defending WRTL’s lawsuit.