This morning the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC, the case challenging overall limits on campaign contributions, and already the tea-leaf reading has begun.
The consensus? The four justices on the liberal wing (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan) favor upholding the law; Justice Anthony Kennedy is unpredictable; and the four justices on the conservative wing (John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito) are in favor of striking down the limits (although Roberts might be looking for a compromise).
From the New York Times:
The justices seemed to divide along familiar ideological lines.
“By having these limits, you are promoting democratic participation,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. “Then the little people will count some.”
Justice Antonin Scalia responded, sarcastically, that he assumed “a law that only prohibits the speech of 2 percent of the country is O.K.”
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who probably holds the crucial vote, indicated that he was inclined to strike down overall limits on contributions to several candidates, but not a separate overall limit on contributions to several political committees.
The Justices who favor limits on campaign donations seemed to believe that the current system is corrupting in favor of the rich, but that they still would like some harder information on just how that happens. And the Justices who favor the freer flow of money into federal campaigns seemed to think there are enough safeguards against corruption already and that any more will stifle political expression, of the not so rich, too. But anything like a consensus that could attract five votes eluded both sides.
Read more about the McCutcheon case here.