The Roberts Court at 10

Campaign Finance and Voting Rights: Easier to Donate, Harder to Vote | Chapter 2


Justice is, at least superficially, a complicated one. But the story of his decisions in the area of campaign finance and voting isn’t. Since becoming Chief Justice in 2005, John Roberts and his conservative colleagues have transformed our democracy, moving the law dramatically to the right in campaign finance and voting rights cases. Under his tenure, the Supreme Court has made it easier for corporations and the wealthiest of Americans to spend huge sums of money to elect candidates to do their bidding, and harder for Americans to cast their vote on Election Day.

Since Roberts became Chief Justice, hardly a term has gone by without a major ruling sharply limiting campaign finance legislation. In a string of six rulings virtually all decided by 5-4 votes – three written by the Chief Justice himself – the Roberts Court has given corporations the right to spend unlimited sums of money in Citizens United v. FEC, struck down contributions limits designed to prevent the wealthiest of Americans from giving inordinate sums of money in McCutcheon v. FEC, and made it harder for government to enact public financing laws that empower small donors and combat corruption in cases such as Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. These rulings, together, make it difficult to enact new limits on the role of money in politics, even as corporations and the wealthiest of donors spend unprecedented sums of money – into the billions – to elect their favored candidates. The opinions of Chief Justice Roberts in the area of voting rights are especially stark by comparison. Roberts joined the 2008 ruling upholding Indiana’s voter-identification law and wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and turning a blind eye to the Constitution’s express grant of power to Congress to protect the right to vote free from discrimination.


More from Voting Rights and Democracy

Voting Rights and Democracy
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs

In Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is considering, among other things, whether Texas Governor Gregory Abbott’s last-minute order limiting absentee ballot dropboxes...
Voting Rights and Democracy
October 2, 2020

OP-ED: How John Roberts Quietly Made It Harder to Vote

There are 250 COVID-related election cases making their way through the nation’s state and federal courts. The...
By: David H. Gans
Voting Rights and Democracy
October 8, 2020

ISSUE BRIEF (ACS): The Roberts Court, the Shadow Docket, and the Unraveling of Voting Rights Remedies

Published originally by the American Constitution Society Year in and year out, the Supreme Court’s...
By: David H. Gans
Voting Rights and Democracy
September 11, 2020

The Civil War Beginnings of America’s Absentee Ballots

Mental Floss
For the first century or so of American independence, people stayed close to home and...
By: Becca Damante, By Ellen Gutoskey
Voting Rights and Democracy
September 4, 2020

Fact check: All mailed ballots — called ‘absentee’ and not — require voter verification

USA Today
Claim: Absentee ballots and mail-in ballots are not the same; absentee requires proof of identity,...
By: Becca Damante, By Ella Lee
Voting Rights and Democracy
August 26, 2020

OP-ED: How the Right to Vote Became Fundamental

Take Care
A century ago, the Nineteenth Amendment was added to the Constitution, prohibiting state-sponsored voting discrimination...
By: David H. Gans