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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

This appeal of a declaratory judgment by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America involves the First Amendment and state regulation of political advertisements aired shortly before the election for members of the Mississippi Supreme Court. During the 2000 election season, the Chamber ran four television commercials describing the background and qualifications of candidates seeking positions on the court. The defendant state officials initiated a review of the advertisements to determine whether they were subject to a Mississippi statute that requires the disclosure of “independent expenditures” that “expressly advocate” the election or defeat of a specific candidate. In response, the Chamber sought a declaratory judgment that its advertisements were not subject to the disclosure law. The district court, in a thoughtful and reasoned opinion, held that the advertisements were subject to state regulation because reasonable minds could not differ that the advertisements advocate the election of the specified candidates.

The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment permits regulation of political advertisements, but only if they expressly advocate the election or defeat of a specific candidate. There is some disagreement, however, concerning the standard to be applied in determining whether a given advertisement contains “express advocacy.” Today we follow most Courts of Appeal that have considered the issue. We hold that a state may regulate a political advertisement only if the advertisement advocates in express terms the election or defeat of a candidate. Applying this rule to the present case, we conclude that the Chamber’s advertisements do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate. This is true because the advertisements do not contain explicit terms advocating specific electoral action by viewers. As a consequence, the advertisements are not subject to mandatory disclosure requirements for independent campaign expenditures. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the district court.

 
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