Justices Cut Vacation to Take Up Case of Political Funds
Byline: Frank J. Murray, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Supreme Court justices yesterday decided to cut short their own summer vacations so they can speedily consider the constitutionality of complex new limits on political money in time to affect the 2004 federal elections.
In a decision announced after yesterday's regular closed conference, the justices scheduled an extraordinary four hours of arguments for Sept. 8, a month before the next term of the court begins.
They compressed to 77 days a briefing time that normally allows a minimum of 115 days.
The timing guaranteed that for many top Washington lawyers the summer will be spent at the office dealing with a barrage of legal arguments and counterarguments over whether the measure's barriers to fund raising and spending in presidential and congressional campaigns violate the Constitution.
The campaign finance law passed last year doubled the amount that individuals can contribute to specific candidates and virtually eliminated the use of "soft money" unlimited funds given to political organizations without being earmarked for a specific candidate. The law also sharply restricted interest groups from running ads endorsing or opposing candidates.
Even with speedy handling by the high court, the dispute threatens to throw the entire 2004 election cycle into disarray because a special three-judge District Court left the law in force despite ruling on May 2 that major segments are unconstitutional.
Some key financing avenues remain closed if the law stands, but a change in fund-raising or spending ground rules during campaigns that already have begun also could cause political chaos.
The three-judge court upheld the new ban against political parties raising soft money to promote or attack candidates for federal office, but threw out a section forbidding political parties from using soft money for such party-building activities as voter registration or get-out-the-vote drives.
The splintered decision, with 2-1 votes on many aspects, also ruled that radio and television issue ads paid for by corporations or unions may not support or oppose federal candidates. …