WASHINGTON (ABP) — The Supreme Court on Jan. 23 sidestepped a challenge brought by an anti-abortion group against a federal campaign-finance law.
The court, in an unsigned opinion without recorded dissent, directed a lower federal court to reconsider its decision banning television ads by a Wisconsin group that mentioned a senator running for re-election in 2004. The high court’s decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission (No. 04-1581) means the justices will not, for the time being, consider the constitutionality of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
That law, designed to limit the influence of special-interest groups on elections, bans the use of corporate or union funds to pay for “electioneering communications” that mention candidates for federal office by name within two months of a general election. Some groups have opposed the law as an unconstitutional limit on free speech.
The Wisconsin group had wished to air ads in the state calling on both of its United States senators — including one of the campaign-finance law’s authors, Democrat Russell Feingold — to oppose filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Feingold supports abortion rights and was, at the time, running for re-election.
The group said the McCain-Feingold law’s ban on advertisements mentioning a candidate for federal office were unconstitutional as applied to its commercials. Its attorneys described those ads, in court papers, as “grass-roots lobbying advertisements.”
The lower court disagreed, citing a 2003 Supreme Court decision that turned away a broad challenge to the campaign-finance law. But in their Jan. 23 decision, the Supreme Court justices said the lower court misinterpreted the precedent.
The decision means the court is not likely to render a decision on the constitutionality of the law before the 2006 federal election. However, the law is likely to return to the Supreme Court after the lower court again deals with it.
The decision came down the same day as thousands of anti-abortion activists converged on the court and other Washington landmarks to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. That landmark 1973 decision legalized abortion nationwide.