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WASHINGTON — In one of its most important rulings this term, the Supreme Court today overturned portions of the controversial McCain‐Feingold campaign finance law that restrict grassroots lobbying directed to Senators and Congressmen facing reelection. Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti‐abortion group, had argued that this portion of the law violated its First Amendment rights. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by four other justices, agreed with Wisconsin Right to Life’s basic arguments.
The Cato Institute filed a friend‐of‐the‐court brief in the case, urging the Court to go even further and reconsider the tenets of its 2003 opinion upholding the constitutionality of the entire McCain‐Feingold law. Three justices — Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas — agreed with Cato’s approach and would have overruled that decision. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito weren’t willing to go quite that far, believing that this was not the right case for that.
Cato senior fellow Mark Moller applauded the outcome, but criticized the Court’s narrow approach. “This case highlights just how far federal campaign‐finance laws have taken us from the unqualified freedom of political speech the Framers wrote the First Amendment to protect. While welcomed, this decision doesn’t deliver the major course correction the Constitution demands. But it does signal that the Roberts Court might be persuaded to revisit this troubling area of our law in the right case.”
John Samples, Director of Cato’s Center for Representative, agreed: “Justices Roberts and Alito clearly believe McCain-Feingold’s restrictions on electioneering communication are unconstitutional. Yet they are not ready to strike the law down. In this decision Justice Roberts has tried to make it very difficult for Congress to suppress some speech criticizing its members. Whether Roberts’ effort will succeed remains to be seen.”