By Sharlene Holt
By Ted Sherman/The Star-Ledger
January 21, 2010, 7:02PM
A 63-year-old law limiting political spending by labor and big business was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court today in a landmark decision that called any ban a restraint of free speech. The ruling by a sharply divided court lifted restrictions on what corporations and labor organizations may invest to sway voters in federal elections, meaning both groups now have free rein to pour money in support of races for Senate and the House of Representatives in all 50 states.
Members of the US Supreme Court pose for a group photograph at the Supreme Court building on September 29, 2009 in Washington, DC. Front row (L-R): Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, and Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. Back Row (L-R), Associate Justice Samuel Alito Jr., Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, and Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
"The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox and the lonely pamphleteer," wrote the court in its 5-4 decision. But those who have worked to limit campaign spending warned of a huge influx of corporate money that would undermine the integrity of elections large and small.
"With a stroke of the pen, five justices wiped out a century of American history devoted to preventing corporate corruption of our democracy," declared Fred Wertheimer, president of the Washington-based government-watchdog group Democracy 21.
The decision, which now also threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states on state and local races, will change the rules of engagement for congressional races this fall, allowing corporations and unions to target individual races in an effort to influence policy.