by Steven Ertelt
June 25, 2007
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — In a victory for citizens groups like Wisconsin Right to Life, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the harsh restrictions placed on political ads just before elections are unconstitutional. The organization says the ban on the ads is an unconstitutional limit on free speech.
The central question in the case is whether organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life can air legitimate grassroots lobbying ads within the blackout periods created by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
Under the federal law, groups can’t air ads mentioning the names of candidates running for federal office within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of a general election. Prohibited ads could include something asking people to contact members of Congress on pro-life issues.
"Today, the U.S. Supreme Court restored the right of citizens and citizen organizations to engage in grassroots lobbying through the use of broadcast communications," Barbara Lyons, the director of WRTL, told LifeNews.com about the ruling.
James Bopp a prominent pro-life attorney who is also known for his leadership on campaign finance issues, told LifeNews.com, "Grassroots lobbying is important to citizens involvement in their own government and it has nothing to do with elections."
"The Court has now restored to the people the most effective means, broadcast ads, for efforts to influence incumbent politicians when they pass laws to tax and regulate us," he added. "Incumbent politicians have no constitutional authority to quash criticism of their conduct in office."
Justice Antonin Scalia appeared to be most sympathetic to the pro-life group’s arguments during the hearing.
"This is the First Amendment. We don’t make people guess whether their speech is going to be allowed by Big Brother or not," Scalia said.
"If you are going to cut off the speech, there ought to be a clear line," Scalia told Solicitor General Paul Clement, who defended the law for Congress. "And you’re not giving us any."
Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter were the most supportive during the hearing.
Numerous organizations joined Wisconsin Right to Life in seeking the First Amendment right to petition the government via grassroots lobbying ads without being subject to jail sentences.
The American Center for Law and Justice is one group supporting Wisconsin Right to Life and says the high court has an important opportunity to protect free speech by removing the blackout periods prior to primary and general elections that prohibit issue advertising.
The high court upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in 2003 but has allowed challenges to specific parts of it like the ad ban. Chief Justice John Roberts said several times during the hearing on the case that the court could rule the ad ban unconstitutional and still keep most of the law in place.
The District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of Wisconsin Right to Life in December of 2006, stating that it is unconstitutional to prohibit the airing of such ads.
The Federal Election Commission and Senator McCain and other members of Congress appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The cases are FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (No. 06-969) and McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life (No. 06-970).