The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to resolve a bitter dispute between the Reagan administration and legal defense groups over whether those groups can participate in the $100 million Combined Federal Campaign fund-raising drive.
The administration argues that the drive should be limited to traditional health-and-welfare services. President Reagan in 1983 issued an executive order excluding political and legal advocacy organizations.
Several groups, including the legal defense funds of major civil rights, environmental and women's organizations, challenged the order. A divided three-judge U.S. appeals court panel last February said the exclusion violated the groups' First Amendment rights.
The charity drive is the only way any charitable organization can solicit from about 4 million U.S. civilian and military employes in their work places. The legal defense funds raised about $2 million nationwide in the 1982-83 campaign.
The administration, adopting a position taken by every administration since the combined drive began 20 years ago, said the government, like any private employer, may restrict fund-raising activities in the work place. It argued that employes would boycott the campaign if legal advocacy groups were included.
The appeals court majority ruled that employes should have a right to contribute to the funds if they wish and that the government cannot exclude controversial groups because of a threatened boycott by some workers.
The legal defense funds, which are participating in this year's campaign, are entitled to receive only contributions designated for them, not contributions to the general pool from persons who do not designate specific charities.
The case is Devine v. NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.
The court also agreed yesterday to decide whether the government can be sued for negligence for the murder of a serviceman by another soldier while both were off base and off duty.
The victim's mother sued her son's superior officers, blaming them for his death because they knew of the murderer's past violent conduct and a prior prison term for manslaughter.
The case, U.S. v. Louise Shearer, involves the scope of a rule, called the Feres doctrine, that generally prohibits negligence lawsuits by military personnel against superiors for actions related to military service. The case also involves an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act, which allows the government to be sued for carelessness by its employes, but not for intentional wrongdoing by employes.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that neither the Feres rule nor the Claims Act applied in this case.
The justices also agreed yesterday to hear arguments that former attorney general John N. Mitchell is liable for damages for approving illegal wiretaps 14 years ago of an antiwar group that allegedly plotted the destruction of utility tunnels under federal buildings and the kidnaping of former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger.
One of those overheard on the tap sued Mitchell for violating his constitutional rights. Mitchell has argued he cannot be held liable because the Supreme Court did not declare certain warrantless wiretaps illegal until 1972. The case is John N. Mitchell v. Keith Forsyth.
The court earlier this month declined to hear an appeal in a similar case in which members of the Jewish Defense League lost a suit against Mitchell in an appeals court here.
The justices, without comment, cleared the way for Rosemary Furman, a Jacksonville, Fla., secretary convicted of giving cut-rate legal advice without a license, to start her 30-day prison sentence. Furman, 57, argued that she was unfairly denied a jury trial.