January 28th, 2010
11:09 AM ET
8 years ago

Gloves come off in Obama Supreme Court showdown

Washington (CNN) - The political furor over President Barack Obama's high profile rebuke of a recent Supreme Court campaign finance ruling escalated Thursday as Democrats pounded the high court decision.

Democrats rallied around Obama the day after the president committed a rare breach of political etiquette, criticizing the controversial ruling in his State of the Union address as members of the high court sat only a few feet away.

The court's 5-4 decision, issued last week, removed long-established legal barriers preventing corporations from spending unlimited sums of money to influence voters in political campaigns. Democrats fear the decision has given the traditionally pro-business GOP a powerful new advantage.

"With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections," Obama told a packed House of Representatives chamber Wednesday night.

"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people. And I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems."

Justice Samuel Alito, part of the court's conservative majority, could be seen apparently frowning and quietly mouthing the words "not true."

Supreme Court justices rarely express any hint of emotion or opinion during the president's State of the Union speech.

On the Senate floor Thursday morning, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, said the ruling "goes to the very core of our democracy and it will allow major corporations - who should have law written to control their effect on America - instead control America. That is not the America I grew up in."

Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ripped Alito for what he claimed was hypocrisy in preaching the virtues of judicial restraint while backing a decision overturning decades of legal precedent.

"In his confirmation hearing, Justice Alito ... testified that the role of the Supreme Court is a limited role," Leahy said. "That was then when he was seeking confirmation. This is now."

A spokesman for the high court had no comment when reached by CNN.

Vice President Joe Biden, appearing Thursday on ABC's "Good Morning America," argued Obama "didn't question the integrity of the court. He questioned the judgment of it."

Biden called the decision "outrageous" and said "we have to correct it."

Most Republicans have defended the ruling, calling it a long overdue recognition of First Amendment rights.

Lyle Denniston, a writer for the Web site Scotusblog.com who has covered the Supreme Court for five decades, told CNN he could not recall ever seeing a president rebuke the high court in such a high-profile forum. But Alito's apparent reaction, he argued, was "quite inappropriate."

Obama "was talking about the consequences of the opinion," Denniston said. Once the justices issue a decision, "they really need to let the political branches or the people deal with it as they will."

Denniston noted that Justice John Paul Stevens, the longest-serving current member of the high court, never attends State of the Union addresses. Attending such a speech, Denniston said, involves the justices in a "political circus" that can damage a justice's image of impartiality.

Filed under: Supreme Court
soundoff (216 Responses)
  1. Brian in MD

    Obama should just resign because he is obviously underqualified to be POTUS. Worst POTUS ever.

    January 28, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  2. GI Joe

    The 5 are right-wing and are also catholics. I expect them to overturn Roe v Wade next.

    We will all be ruled by wing-nut catholics before 2015.

    January 28, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  3. TlalocBrooklyn

    Is this caption correct? I only saw six justices in the audience that night.

    January 28, 2010 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  4. Right Leaning Independent

    I do not get it! The largest recipients of contributions from the Financial companies were Chris Dodd and Barney Frank! The rest of the top 10 in the House and Senate are evenly divided among Dems and Repubs! Dems receive lots of money from Unions and Trial Lawyers yet they are now going to cast stones... They are such Hypocrites!!!

    January 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  5. Laverne

    President was ABSOLUTELY correct in openly rebuking the supreme courts decision. This was a move by the most conservative judges and their attempt to try and tilt the scale towards the republicans for upcoming elections, what other motives could it be?. It is a disgrace to this country for our high courts to give an okay for campaigns to be bank rolled or better yet, bought by these corporations. Judge Alito is the most conservative judge on the supreme court and is absolutely not a fan of this adminstration anyway so no surprise by his reaction.

    January 28, 2010 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Len in Washington

    The Court was wrong in this decision.
    The President and the other critics are correct.
    Left unchanged, this decision WILL turn our Government over to the highest bidder (spender.) Corporations, Unions and Non-Profits are NOT "individual citizens" and therefore should not have the rights of one.

    January 28, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  7. RH

    Corporations have no place in elections or in government at all, for that matter. To give corporations such a role is fascism, plain and simple.

    January 28, 2010 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  8. Fair is Fair

    Whether you agree with the SCOTUS on this decision or not, the state of the union address is NOT the forum for the type of comments made by regarding the supreme court.

    So, Obama... since you're so good at apologizing to foreigners, maybe you should apologize to the SCOTUS.

    January 28, 2010 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  9. Bob in Pa

    No, in his eyes elections should only be bankrolled by shady undocumented funcraising and radical billionaires disguised as grass roots 527 groups.

    Freedom od speech means freedom of speech for everyone BOzo.

    January 28, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  10. Torch

    Just like everything with this administration.....Smoke and Mirrors.....

    Democrats have dominated this type of funding for decades. They are not worried about a unfair advantage for Republicans, they're afraid of losing their unfair advantage!

    I'm starting to think the president is a serial liar. It's getting to the point where he can't help himself.

    January 28, 2010 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  11. Kenneth

    The supreme court became a joke 9 years ago when they stopped the Florida recounts to make Bush the "selected" president. Remember, that vote was also 5 to 4. Whenever you get a 5 to 4 vote, the justices are just voting down party lines. Remember, they are all either Republican or Democrat too. They should be doing was is best for the country and not voting based their party affliation. This latest vote comes right when the Republicans need to win a bunch of seats to take over the House and Senate. So the 5 Republican justices voted for this. Shameful and biased.

    January 28, 2010 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  12. Jerry

    With 77% of those polled saying Obama is anti-business he should be afraid, Impeach him before he spends more

    January 28, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. Jeff

    So based on the caption are we to assume that the editors believe that the 3 people sitting next to Justice Sotomayor are Justices Stevens, Scalia and Thomas?

    January 28, 2010 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. Sam Sixpack

    However will politicians get fat off "favors" if big business can go straight to the voters? Why do we need fat bureaucrats to decide what is best for us to know? They're just middlemen.

    This ruling only hurts parasites who make their living by caving in to special interest groups.

    Those who are crying the loudest are the biggest abusers.

    January 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  15. Bludgeon

    One of the ideological talking points that the Republicans have hammered at us again and again is that a Supreme Court justice candidate should not be inclined to "legislate from the bench." That is exactly what five of the jusitices, led by Chief Justice Roberts, has gone and done.
    A more perfect example of legislating from the bench (and of blatant hypocrisy) could not be found.

    January 28, 2010 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  16. Sarah

    I agree to think that foreign corporation, buisness, or foreign countries can have an influience in our elections is not right and I think that both parties should do what ever they have to do to correct it, but of course the Republicans are for it because they are backed by BIG Buisness(whether it be American or Foreign) and they need and want all the support they can get........not matter how unfair or unethical it is

    January 28, 2010 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  17. Observant

    For once, I am in total agreement with President Obama. If corporations have unlimited spending power for the candidate of their choice, then the Dave Coty's and Bill Gates, can and will determine whom the next President is. The Supreme Court may as well have said: "Going forth Corporations elect the President, not the people".

    January 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  18. Sue

    He sure does get called a liar a lot....I am beginning to beleive there is some truth to that.

    January 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  19. Bob in Pa

    Maybe now the Chinese can just run their own adds instead of buying a Democrat canidate.

    January 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  20. Disgusted independent

    Great, glad to see the politicians are taking the right approach and blasting this new highway of corruption the Court just opened up. Don't forget to put a limitation on amount that union members are allowed to donate. As a matter of fact, cap the amount all politicians can raise for their campaigns. I'm tired of the endless barrage of buzzwords that the richer candidate eats the airwaves with.

    January 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  21. dude palin

    Hey Alito....TRUE ! Stop the spin..

    January 28, 2010 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  22. RealityKing

    Why are democrats afraid of American Corporations? Spread the political wealth..

    January 28, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  23. JM

    There are no bounds to this man's hypocracy.

    January 28, 2010 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  24. Jane/Seattle

    "...attending involves the justices in a 'political circus' that can damage a justice's image of impartiality..."

    What a Crock! The Right-Wing Gang of 5 who undermine this country ARE the Big Circus here! The Constitution has been damaged and made a mockery of by these "Activist" politicized (Bush) judges. Get it right, CNN.

    January 28, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  25. Julie

    Now during the elections we will never be able to watch television in peace; we iwill be slammed with mean-spirited, nasty lying commercials, brought by the highest bidder. The ingegrity of the political commericials were already compromised, this ruling will now make them fiction. I will be renting alot of DVDs during the next campaigne.

    January 28, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
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