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Rep. Alan Grayson, Florida Democrat, called the ruling “the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case.” The 1857 Dred Scott decision held that slaves could never be citizens, nor were they entitled to constitutional protections.

All sides were still digesting the 183-page decision, issued at 10 a.m. Thursday, but those who fought to end the ban were ecstatic with the basic finding.

“The Supreme Court has restored a part of the First Amendment that had been unfortunately stolen by Congress and a previously wrongly-decided ruling of the court,” said Hans A. von Spakovsky, a former Republican member of the Federal Election Commission and current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

The ruling does not overturn laws limiting how much corporations and unions can contribute directly to a candidate, nor does it overturn the ban on so-called “soft money,” the uncapped donations to political parties that had swamped the political process in the 1990s.

Thursday’s ruling does underscore the importance of the court’s makeup.

Seven years ago, a 5-4 majority upheld the McCain-Feingold campaign finance restrictions that helped write the rules restricting political ad spending. But with two new members appointed by former President George W. Bush and one member appointed by President Obama, the majority now ruled the other way.