- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 14, 2003

The Supreme Court declined to intervene yesterday to block part of a lower court’s long-delayed ruling on the new campaign-finance law, but the court is still expected to consider the case.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist turned down a request from the National Rifle Association, which had asked the high court to suspend what it calls unconstitutional restrictions on political advertisements by interest groups.

Justice Rehnquist’s action was not a ruling on the merits of the NRA’s argument nor on the entire lower-court pronouncement on the campaign-finance law.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the entire law violates the constitutional right of free speech. Because of unexplained delays in the lower court, that ruling is not likely to come before the fall.

Separately yesterday, the Bush administration asked the high court to begin that fuller examination. Solicitor General Theodore B. Olson, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, took issue with several conclusions the lower court made in its May 2 ruling.

“In invalidating key provisions of [the campaign-finance law], the district court substituted its own judgment for that of Congress, which has firsthand experience with the electoral process and a unique understanding of the concerns to which campaign-finance laws are addressed,” Mr. Olson wrote. “Those holding plainly warrant this court’s review.”

The NRA’s request was an unusual emergency filing that asked for a stay, or suspension, of the May 2 ruling. Justice Rehnquist did not give a reason for rejecting the request.

Numerous groups with a stake in campaign fund raising have asked the lower court to put part or all of its ruling on hold, pending a full review by the Supreme Court. The lower court is not expected to rule on those requests until Wednesday at the earliest.

The NRA tried to jump ahead Monday by asking the Supreme Court to get involved. Chief Justice Rehnquist said the NRA could renew the high court request if the lower court has not acted by May 20.

The NRA says the lower court isn’t moving quickly enough and that it has ads it wants to air now.

The lower court ruled unconstitutional a provision of the law barring a range of interest groups, including those financed with corporate and union money, from airing political ads mentioning federal candidates in those candidates’ districts the month before a primary and within two months of a general election.

It upheld fallback rules that bar the same groups from airing ads that promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate at any time. It’s not clear how far interest groups can go when featuring candidates in ads because the law doesn’t define what it means to promote, support, attack or oppose.

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