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High court takes 'issue ad' cases

Story Highlights

• Supreme Court accepts appeals in related pair of lawsuits
• Suits challenge McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform law
• Issue ads not allowed to advocate for specific candidates
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Jumping into a heated free-speech dispute a year before the presidential primaries, the Supreme Court on Friday accepted a pair of appeals over a sweeping campaign-finance reform law that limits "issue ads."

Oral arguments in the cases will be held in late April, with a ruling expected by late June -- six months before the 2008 election officially kicks off with primaries and caucuses in such states as Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.

The question for the high court is whether issue ads aired mainly on television -- and funded by businesses, labor unions, and other groups -- can be banned 60 days before a general election, and 30 days before a primary.

That restriction was a key part of the McCain-Feingold congressional bill setting strict limits on political spending and the message behind it.

The issue ads are widely used to promote particular causes such as environmental protection or tax reform, and they specifically cannot endorse or even mention any particular candidate or political party.

An anti-abortion group, Wisconsin Right to Life, had filed a lawsuit in 2004, demanding the right to air ads that urged viewers to contact their Democratic U.S. senators -- Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold -- and tell them to support President Bush's judicial nominees. Both lawmakers were running for re-election in 2004, and retained their seats.

The Supreme Court, in a series of rulings in recent years, has generally upheld the constitutionality of these campaign finance reform laws from Congress. But a federal court last month allowed the Wisconsin group's lawsuit to go forward. The justices will delve into a complicated legal dispute over the kinds of legal challenges that can be filed and heard by the courts.

The cases are FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (06-969) and McCain v. Wisconsin Right to Life (06-970).

In a separate case, the justices will hear oral arguments in an appeal by a staffer to Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minnesota. At issue was whether the staffer had the legal right to sue his boss over personnel policy. Federal law generally protects federal officeholders from individual lawsuits over their official duties.

The case is Office of Sen. Mark Dayton v. Hanson (06-618).


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