The Supreme Court declined to intervene Tuesday to block part of a lower court's long-delayed ruling on the new campaign finance law, but the move is almost certainly not the high court's last word on the subject.
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist turned down a request from the National Rifle Association, which had asked the high court to suspend what it calls unconstitutional restrictions on political advertisements by interest groups.
Rehnquist's action was not a ruling on the merits of the NRA's argument, or on the entire lower court pronouncement on the campaign finance law.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule eventually on whether the entire law violates the constitutional principle of free speech. Because of unexplained delays in the lower court, that ruling is now unlikely to come before this fall.
Rehnquist did not give a reason for rejecting the NRA's emergency request for a stay, or suspension of a May 2 ruling by lower court judges. Numerous groups with a stake in campaign fund raising have asked the lower court to put part or all of its ruling on hold, pending a full review by the Supreme Court. The lower court is not expected to rule on those requests until Wednesday at the earliest.
The NRA tried to jump ahead on Monday by asking the Supreme Court to get involved. Rehnquist said the NRA could renew the high court request if the lower court has not acted by May 20.
The NRA says the lower court isn't moving quickly enough, and it has ads it wants to air now.
CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen said it would have been "astonishing" if the Supreme Court had become involved in this case before the lower court itself decided whether to stay its own ruling pending appeal.
"A much more likely scenario is for that lower court to rule on a stay of its decision in the next few days so that everyone involved can then take it up to the high court," said Cohen.
The lower court ruled unconstitutional a provision of the law barring a range of interest groups, including those financed with corporate and union money, from airing political ads mentioning federal candidates in those candidates' districts the month before a primary and within two months of a general election.
It upheld fallback rules that bar the same groups from airing ads that promote, support, attack or oppose a candidate at any time. It's unclear how far interest groups can go when featuring candidates in ads because the law doesn't define what it means to promote, support, attack or oppose.
If the NRA wins a stay from either court, the 30-60 day ad restrictions would be in effect. The group opposes those too, but says it prefers them to the fallback rules because it's not a congressional election year.