WASHINGTON, May 12 (UPI) -- The National Rifle Association asked the Supreme Court Monday to block a lower-court ruling that bans the use of corporate or union general treasury funds for broadcast political advertisements.
The NRA said that ruling inhibits its "core political speech."
The lower-court ruling was part of a larger decision that struck down the main provisions of the federal ban on soft money in federal elections.
However, the May 2 decision by a special three-judge trial panel upheld some parts of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as the McCain-Feingold law, including the provision that the NRA wants to block.
The NRA was one of a number of organizations that successfully challenged the ban on soft money. But both opponents and supporters of the BCRA have indicated that they will ask the Supreme Court to hear an expedited, or fast-track, appeal.
The NRA's emergency request goes to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who can act on his own or refer the request to the full court for a vote.
The NRA filing said the organization was asking for a partial stay of the three-judge panel's ruling. "Specifically," the filing said, "the ... court's patently unconstitutional 'saving' construction of the term 'electioneering communication' contained in Title II of the BCRA ... "
In terms of the law, "electioneering communications" are broadcast, cable or satellite communications which clearly refer to a federal candidate; are made within 60 days of an election, convention or caucus; or, in the case of a candidate other than president or vice president, are targeted to a particular electorate.
Though as written in the law the ban on use of corporate or union treasury funds for broadcast political ads would not take effect for several months, the three-judge court "effectively rewrote the statute to prohibit the NRA's core political speech right now," the filing said, "thus precluding the organization from effectively participating in a national political debate" on gun control measures now being considered by Congress.
The three-judge court's ruling "posed immediate, irreparable harm to NRA's core speech rights under the First Amendment," the filing said, and the NRA has already asked the lower court to stay its own ruling.
Instead of acting, however, the lower court has set up a weeklong schedule to let the parties who are filing motions also file briefs with arguments to support those motions, the NRA told the Supreme Court.
Last Friday, the federal government asked the three-judge panel to temporarily block its whole decision.
The government said a stay is necessary to prevent confusion until the Supreme Court hears the case on appeal and issues its final ruling.
Allowing "the decision in this case to go into effect during an appeal would have tumultuous consequences for the nation's federal electoral system," the government said in its filing to the three-judge court.
"Soft money" has no limits, is largely unregulated and is supposed to be used in "party-building" activities such as registration drives, but cannot be used directly in an election.
In contrast, "hard money" contributions have low caps and are strictly regulated, but can be used directly in a federal election.
Congress enacted the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act because the major parties had become particularly skillful in blurring the lines between the uses of hard and soft money.
Before the ban went into effect last November, political committees, corporations, unions and special-interest groups had used millions of dollars in soft money to influence elections.
The ban was immediately challenged by a number of groups across a wide political spectrum, and 11 of the challenges, including the NRA's, were consolidated into one case heard by the special three-judge trial court.
On May 2, the deeply divided trial court struck down the core provisions of the ban, but upheld some of the peripheral provisions, including the one objected to by the NRA.
The court also ordered the federal government not to enforce any part of the law declared unconstitutional.
(Application No. 02-951, NRA et al. vs. FEC et al.)