Court Lifts Campaign Ad Prohibition

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Free speech trumped the need to regulate television advertising from corporate and union sponsors before an election the Supreme Court decided Monday. In a 5-4 decision led by the Bush-appointed conservative justices, the court ruled that a provision of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002--better known as the McCain-Feingold bill--unreasonably limited an antiabortion organization’s freedom of speech.

The suit was brought by Wisconsin Right to Life Inc., which wanted to air advertisements mentioning none other than Sen. Russ Feingold by name 30 days before a primary election in 2004. Feingold was up for re-election at the time and McCain-Feingold limited such an action. The court ruled that regulating the advertisement in this case was unconstitutional.

“In drawing that line, the First Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

This piece of legislation had survived court challenges in 2003, though the Supreme Court ruled last year that its constitutionality could be contested on a case-by-case basis.

U.S. News’s Michael Barone offered some foresight on problematic portions of the bill when he wrote about the legislation in 2001.

This decision may have dealt another blow to the already struggling presidential campaign of John McCain. U.S. News reported on McCain’s advocacy vs. his individual campaign financing in May. 

--Nikki Schwab