Presumably, substituting Samuel Alito for Sandra Day O’Connor was consequential for campaign finance law.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor did not sound happy on Tuesday about the Supreme Court’s big campaign finance decision last week. It repudiated a major part of a ruling Justice O’Connor helped write before her retirement from the court in 2006, and it complicated her recent efforts to do away with judicial elections.

“Gosh,” she said, “I step away for a couple of years and there’s no telling what’s going to happen.”

Justice O’Connor criticized the recent decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, only obliquely, reminding the audience that she had been among the authors of McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, the 2003 decision that was overruled in large part on Thursday.

“If you want my legal opinion” about Citizens United, Justice O’Connor said, “you can go read” McConnell.

O’Connor argued from a narrow view that opening up campaign contributions to corporations could harm her efforts to end judicial elections. But she also stood by her ruling on McConnell v. FEC.

If she felt that strongly about it, maybe she could have resisted resigning when a conservative Republican for of campaign finance reform was in line to name her replacement.

David Dayen

David Dayen

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