Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2013 during oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC.
Protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court in October 2013 during oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC. (Jay Mallin)

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning struck down aggregate contribution limits under federal campaign finance law, continuing its line of cases rejecting restrictions on campaign money under the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. announced the decision for a divided court in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama businessman, challenged the limits as an infringement of his freeom of expression.

“Congress may not regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others,” wrote Roberts, who was joined in his opinion by only three other justices: Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito Jr.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote separately to join the bottom-line judgment of the court, while asserting the court should overturn Buckley v. Valeo, the 1976 ruling that has been the foundation of campaign reform legislation ever since.

Roberts in his opinion gave a nod to Buckley, signaling he and the other justices who joined him are not ready to go that far.

Writing in dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the decision is one that “substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opin­ion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform.”

Contact Tony Mauro at tmauro@alm.com. On Twitter: @Tonymauro.