A split Supreme Court Wednesday struck down limits on the total amount of money an individual may spend on political candidates as a violation of free speech rights, a decision sure to increase the role of money in political campaigns. The 5 to 4 decision sparked a sharp dissent from liberal justices, who said the decision reflects a wrong-headed hostility to campaign finance laws that the court’s conservatives showed in Citizens United v. FEC , which allowed corporate spending on elections. “If Citizens United opened a door,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer said in reading his dissent from the bench, “today’s decision we fear will open a floodgate.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the opinion striking down the aggregate limits of what an individual may contribute to candidates and political committees. The decision did not affect the limit an individual may contribute to a specific candidate, currently $2,600. But Roberts said an individual should be able to contribute that much to as many candidates as he chooses, which was not allowed by the donation cap.
“An aggregate limit on how many candidates and committees an individual may support through contributions is not a modest restaint at all,” Roberts wrote. “The government may no more restrict how many candidates or causes a donor may support than it may tell a newspaper how many candidates it may endorse.”
With Roberts as chief justice, the Supreme Court has never upheld federal campaign finance laws from challenge, a series of decisions that culminated in Citizens United. That has proved to be a ruling deeply unpopular according to polls, and Roberts seemed to acknowledge that in his ruling.