- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The National Rifle Association yesterday asked the Supreme Court to block part of the recent lower court ruling that rewrote the rules guiding outside interest groups running issue ads.

The NRA’s request could give the Supreme Court its first chance to rule on the special court’s decision May 2 that invalidated or rewrote much of the campaign finance regulations that President Bush signed into law last year. The three-judge panel, created specifically to hear the case, ruled that political parties could not raise or spend “soft money,” and changed the rules under which interest groups may run broadcast advertisements.

Unlimited soft-money donations went to parties from corporations and unions for party-building activities that would often benefit a candidate or for ads that mentioned a candidate without advocating his election or defeat.

Multiple appeals have been filed with the Supreme Court. Pending those appeals, the NRA and several parties have asked the three-judge panel to stay its own ruling. But the NRA yesterday said it must go further and ask the Supreme Court to get involved because it needs an immediate answer in order to know whether it can begin to run advertisements on gun issues.

“We haven’t heard anything back from [the special court], and our argument is that the NRA wants to be protected from any kind of enforcement action if the NRA began running electioneering communication today,” said Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer for the NRA.

The NRA wants Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who oversees the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to stay the new rules the court wrote concerning when and how interest groups can run broadcast advertisements.

The law prohibited ads mentioning a federal candidate 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary, but the special court’s ruling, which took effect immediately, changed that to ban ads that attack or defend a federal official at any time.

Now, opponents of the law concede they find themselves in the unique position of defending the law, because they say the judges’ decision could be even worse.

“It’s a bizarre situation where people believe that one unconstitutional provision is the lesser of two evils,” said Jan W. Baran, an attorney for several of the plaintiffs in the case. “Actually, I think both evils are evil, and both should be enjoined.”

“We’d rather be bound by the 30-to-60 day rule than be bound by the backup definition, which applies at all times,” said Mark Lopez, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly everyone involved in the lawsuit now wants the ruling put on hold.

“This just has to be stayed,” said Kenneth W. Starr, who leads the legal team that represents chief plaintiff Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “There comes a time when the culture of deference to Congress must bend to the higher demands of the Constitution of the United States.”

Randolph D. Moss and Trevor Potter, attorneys for the law’s congressional sponsors, called for a “stay across the board.”

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and the AFL-CIO want both the law and the court ruling on interest group advertising invalidated.

“That provision was declared unconstitutional by the court, and we think it should not be resurrected. After all, that’s what the defendants want,” said James Bopp Jr., general counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech, which represents 10 plaintiffs, including the NRLC.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee yesterday asked the court to leave its new rules about political committees and soft money in place, saying the new rules partially restoring their ability to raise soft money will allow them to participate in this November’s five state elections.

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