The Supreme Court has finished just its second year under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and already it is clear a new majority will cast a skeptical eye on laws that regulate campaign money.
"The 1st Amendment requires us to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it," Roberts said in June for a 5-4 majority. The ruling freed groups to use corporate money to pay for pre-election broadcast ads that discuss candidates running for office, ads that were banned by the McCain-Feingold Act.
Election-law experts say the decision not only signals a shift in the law, but posts a warning to those reformers--state or federal-who want to limit the impact of money in politics. "With the replacement of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice O'Connor with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, the pendulum has swung sharply away from Supreme Court deference to campaign finance regulation," says Professor Richard Hasen of the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. "All the signs point to deregulation in the future."
For years, the Court had been closely split on how to view money in politics. Some say campaign money should be closely regulated to prevent wealthy interests from unduly influencing elections. Others argue that since this money pays for campaigning, it is political speech that should be protected from regulation by the 1st Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Roberts and Alito have taken the free-speech view and aligned themselves with Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Now, a five-member majority says the 1st Amendment forbids strict regulation of campaign money, even when the funds come from corporations or unions.
Last year, the court struck down a Vermont law that sought to sharply limit how much candidates for state office could raise or spend on their campaigns. The decision in Randall v. Sorrell crushed the hopes of reformers who sought to replace costly campaign mailings and broadcast ads with the grass-roots politics …