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