A divided Supreme Court on Thursday swept away decades of legislative efforts to restrict the role of corporations in election campaigns, ruling that severe restrictions on corporate spending are inconsistent with the First Amendment’s protection of political speech.
The court split 5 to 4 over the ruling, with its conservative members in the majority.
“When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought,” the court said in a decision written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy. “This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.”
President Obama sharply criticized the decision, saying it gives “a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics” and represents “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”