Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Provisions of McCain-Feingold
It was a close vote, but the Supreme Court today struck down a key provision of the McCain-Feingold law:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court loosened restrictions Monday on corporate- and union-funded television ads that air close to elections, weakening a key provision of a landmark campaign finance law.
The court, split 5-4, upheld an appeals court ruling that an anti-abortion group should have been allowed to air ads during the final two months before the 2004 elections. The law unreasonably limits speech and violates the group’s First Amendment rights, the court said.
The decision could lead to a bigger role for corporations, unions and other interest groups in the 2008 presidential and congressional elections.
The case involved advertisements that Wisconsin Right to Life was prevented from broadcasting. The ads asked voters to contact the state’s two senators, Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl, and urge them not to filibuster President Bush’s judicial nominees.
Feingold, a co-author of the campaign finance law, was up for re-election in 2004.
The provision in question was aimed at preventing the airing of issue ads that cast candidates in positive or negative lights while stopping short of explicitly calling for their election or defeat. Sponsors of such ads have contended they are exempt from certain limits on contributions in federal elections.
While the decision does not overturn McCain-Feingold completely, there clearly are some Justices who would go that far:
Three justices, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, would have overruled the court’s 2003 decision upholding the constitutionality of the provision.
Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito said only that the Wisconsin group’s ads are not the equivalent of explicit campaign ads and are not covered by the court’s 2003 decision.
That court, differently composed, upheld large portions of the law in its 2003 decision, including the provision in question in the current case.
Chief Justice Roberts sums it up well:
“Discussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues also may be pertinent in an election. Where the First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker, not the censor.”
And, unlike 2003, this time the First Amendment won.