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Justice Stevens Rips Into John Roberts' Campaign Finance Ruling

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AP Photo / Danny Johnston

Before he retired in 2010, Stevens was outspoken in defending the legality of campaign finance limits. Most famously he wrote the scathing dissent against the Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates for unlimited independent expenditures to influence elections. Now he's taking aim at the McCutcheon v. FEC, written by Roberts, in which the same five justices dealt another blow to campaign finance regulations.

Stevens told the Times' Adam Liptak that the very first sentence of Roberts' opinion -- "There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right to participate in electing our political leaders." -- was misleading. "The first sentence here is not really about what the case is about," the former justice said.

He posited that the decisive opinion reflected "an incorrect view of the law" but allowed that it was consistent with the reasoning in Citizens United. "The opinion," he said, "has the merit of being faithful to the notion that money is speech and that out-of-district money has the same First Amendment protection as in-district money."

Stevens tore into Roberts and the Supreme Court's conservative tilt in a separate interview with New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

"Sam Alito replacing Justice O’Connor was a very significant change," he told the magazine in an article for its forthcoming issue. "He is much more conservative. And, as for John Roberts, he is much more in the direction of protecting the rights of very rich people to donate money to campaigns than [former Chief Justice] Bill Rehnquist ever was."

Stevens, who turned 94 on Sunday, has written a new book called "Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution" that's due to be released this week.