The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

A federal judge struck down part of North Carolina’s public campaign financing system, following in the footsteps of other cases that link political money to free speech.

U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan issued her ruling Friday after the N.C. Right to Life Committee challenged a state law that gives judicial candidates “rescue funds” when outside political groups spend a certain amount against them.

“The North Carolina matching funds statutes (impose) a substantial burden on the speech of privately financed candidates and independent expenditure groups,” the ruling states.

The anti-abortion group challenged the constitutionality of the law in 2005, but the federal courts determined it was allowed under the First Amendment. But the group filed a lawsuit again in September to invalidate the North Carolina law after a similar financing system in Arizona was overturned.

The judge determined that North Carolina’s system is “nearly identical” to the Arizona law.

After the Arizona ruling, the N.C. State Board of Elections voted to not disburse money through the matching funds system. The state asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it was unnecessary because of the new rule. But the judge disagreed, writing that the lawsuit was relevant because the board could change its policy in the future.

Gary Bartlett, the state’s election chief, said state lawmakers will not need to repeal the law from the books.

James Bopp, Jr., the attorney for N.C. Right to Life, applauded the ruling in a statement. “North Carolina Right to Life can finally participate in judicial elections without worrying that their speech will fund a candidate they oppose,” he said. “The federal court rightly saw that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling required it to strike down the scheme once and for all.”

Staff writers John Frank, Lynn Bonner, Franco Ordonez

©2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)