Washington Group Seeks Supreme Court Justice on Assisted Suicide Fight

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 24, 2010   |   4:49PM   |   Olympia, WA

The Washington state pro-life group Human Life of Washington feels the state’s campaign finance laws prevented it from waging the kind of battle it hoped to fight against a state ballot measure legalizing assisted suicide.

HLW had wanted to mount a more aggressive campaign against what eventually became the law making Washington the second state to legalize the practice.

Now, it has asked the Supreme Court to hear its case that seeks to allow citizens to advocate political issues without being treated as a political action committee (PAC) by the state.

In 2008, even though HLW just wanted to talk about the issue of assisted suicide, rather than the ballot initiative itself, and problems associated with the practice, it could not because such activities would have made it a PAC under Washington’s vague PAC definition.

That was a risk HLW could not take, pro-life attorney James Bopp says, since PACs are subjected to burdensome and expensive requirements and severe penalties for noncompliance. 

HLW filed a First Amendment challenge to several Washington regulations, including those establishing what groups are treated as PACs. HLW asked the court to declare the law unconstitutional.

However, the trial court found the law to be constitutional. HLW appealed and the court of appeals agreed with the trial court. In so doing, the court of appeals directly contradicted the Supreme Court and other federal courts on the important issue of which organizations can be treated as PACs.

“While the Supreme Court and other Circuit courts have said that only certain organizations may be treated as PACs, Washington has been suppressing speech by treating groups that do issue advocacy as PACs,” Bopp, a campaign finance expert, said. “This case provides a unique opportunity for the Supreme Court to protect issue advocacy groups from this threat.”

The case is Human Life of Washington, Inc. v. Brumsickle and the James Madison Center for Free Speech is assisting the pro-life group.