The Supreme Court struck down caps that individuals can make to candidates or political parties during a two-year election cycle, in an opinion Wednesday by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, marks the most consequential campaign finance ruling from the high court since the landmark Citizens United decision in 2010.
Critics immediately denounced the decision, saying it would give wealthy donors more freedom to influence an election.
In the majority opinion, the court ruled that the limits violated the First Amendment. The “aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance,” the opinion read.
Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman and the lead plaintiff in the case, challenged the limit on donations that individuals can give to candidates and political organizations, saying it limited his First Amendment rights. McCutcheon challenged section 441 of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which provides a biennial aggregate limit on the amount individuals can donate.
The decision split the court’s conservative and liberal justices. Roberts was joined in the majority opinion by the court’s other conservative-leaning justices: Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, and Antonin Scalia. Justice Clarence Thomas, the court’s other conservative, concurred with the majority opinion but wrote a separate opinion arguing the court should have gone further.
In 2014, the limit on all contributions was $123,200.
The Supreme Court’s decision does not do away with limits on individual contributions to candidates for president or Congress, which now stands at $2,600 an election.