January 28th, 2010
11:09 AM ET
4 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. Terry from West Texas

    OK, so where is money going to come from to finance American political campaigns? Who has an interest in controlling American elections?

    Afghani fortunes are being made with American contracts. I'd bet that a lot of Afghani millionaires will be contributing to anybody willing to extend the war there.

    Russian money (there is a lot of it) will certainly pour in to candidates who are "soft on Iran." The Saudi royal family would love to influence American elections, and you can believe that Saudi money will flood local elections. What about polluting corporations who want to elect "friendly" justices to the state supreme courts? Do you think it won't occur to them that they can essentially 'hire' a few justices who don't mind dirty air.

    The wolve (the five Republican hacks on the Supreme Court) are guarding the sheep. You and I are the sheep. Woe is us.

    January 28, 2010 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  2. Laurie

    Real classy Joe Wilson, I mean Judge Alito. President Obama is dead on. This country is already almost bought and paid for by big corporations. The Supreme Court ruling ensures that government by the people is in serious jepordy.

    January 28, 2010 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  3. B

    For the first time in American history the Supreme Court has now unbelievably become a political tool for the right wing. As if we didn’t already have Corporate Ownership of the Congress and Senate, it has now spread to the Supreme Court !

    Hard to believe what this country is allowing to happen. Politics and money control of everything, extending now to the high courts, no less..

    January 28, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  4. Amy, TX

    You go, Mr. President!!!!

    January 28, 2010 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  5. Fed Up

    Hello, President Obama. You don't control everything. Gee, you can't even control your own party. The Justice Department is separate for a reason. We may not agree with anything, or everything they do. However, they are appointed for life.

    January 28, 2010 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  6. Michael M, Phoenix AZ

    The Supreme Court has a majority of Republican appointees sitting now, including Alitio and Roberts. Were they also "paid off" for this stupid move? Makes one wonder doesn't it?

    January 28, 2010 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  7. Sam Sixpack

    What's wrong with free speech?

    Are we afraid some corporate big-wheel might say something we shouldn't know about?

    These bureaucrat-weasels STILL think they're so much better than us.

    January 28, 2010 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  8. Centrist

    Considering this was a SOTU for our president to address issues facing our nation, Justice Alito also apeared to be the one who breached etiquette.

    The Supreme Court made a disastrous ruling. Our country does not need more corporations, lobbyists and special interests from either side influencing our government, especially when these entities can include non-US influence.

    The legislative and executive branches should move to put checks and balances on this judicial activism to ensure proper oversight for the American people.

    January 28, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  9. a health economist

    I'm not a legal expert so I don't know if the Supreme Court's decision was just. With my limited understanding I think it might be. But man, this could produce some really bad consequences. The foreign businesses isn't really a concern.

    But this could really turn into whomever has the most money wins and everyone else loses. Those with the money can bankroll politicians that will help them get more money. This introduces all new meaning to "barriers to entry" for economics. New competitors can be completely stonewalled from being able to get into a market simply by corporations buy in politicians. Forget about a Democracy with an equal say. We would all own stock in the US. Each dollar we own is a share. Whomever has the most dollars has the biggest say in the decisions.

    January 28, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  10. Greg K., PA

    While I personally think the term "activist judge" is a little ridiculous considering the nature of being a judge, I do think it's hypocritical of someone who previously decried "judicial activism" to then reach far beyond the scope of a case to change 100 years of precedent in favor of corporations and special interests rather than in favor of the People. It was truly a sad day for Democracy.

    Let's hope the Congress can put aside petty partisan quibbles and find a solution to check the power of corporations and special interests in favor of a more equal democratic process that ensures that the people's voices will not be drowned out.

    January 28, 2010 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  11. People power

    Mr.President: Time you respect the separation of powers.

    January 28, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  12. Hutto

    I hope both Republican and Democrats realize the dangers of allowing big corporations to bankroll political campaigns (aka "buy politicians.") There are many disgusting aspects of this prospect. What bothers me most is that corporations are NOT democratic. Though a corporation has many thousands of employees, the decision to spend big bucks is made by a handful of executives, and it is their viewpoint the 'corporation' will support. The opinion of those few people is greatly magnified, but with other people's money–they use corporate dollars to support their own agenda, right or left.

    January 28, 2010 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  13. MO Jarry

    I'm for the decision to spend all they want, but the cost should not be tax-deductible and any false statement should be open to a lawsuit. The photo caption says "several" attended but I count 9 in the picture – 4 women & 5 men. Are they all supreme court members?
    Is Ruth Ginsburg just looking down, or is she asleep?

    January 28, 2010 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  14. Marie MD

    Liekd the speech but seeing these old fogies squirm in their seats was the best part of the evening.

    January 28, 2010 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  15. Michael in Houston

    HEY ALITO.......IT IS TRUE!! At least have the guts to stand behind your decision.
    But dont worry....your vote and the ruling of this court on allowing corporations FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC to now flood our democracy of WE THE PEOPLE with money is precisely the sort of person I knew you were.
    No of us are at the least bit surprised.
    So much for your so called judicial restraint convictions.

    January 28, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  16. A Kickin" Donkey

    If the Democrats have any politcal saavy what so ever, they will put forth legislation quickly to prevent foreign governments (through their corporations) from manipulating American elections. This is an easy sell given the Chinese governments ownership / influence in their corporations.

    The legislation should restrict the ability of ALL CORPORATIONS to finance elections so that we get back to a government by the PEOPLE for the PEOPLE.

    The GOP is quick to support the "WILL OF THE PEOPLE" and expound on protecting AVERAGE HARD WORKING AMERICANS so it will be hard for them to oppose such a bill. Remember they are the ones that have accused the President of "apologizing" and selling out America to foriegn interests.

    If they do oppose it or better yet FILLIBUSTER, the Democrats should be able to make them pay for it.

    Start working on the "BUMPER STICKER" message now Democrats. Be ready to checkmate the GOP if they don't get in line on this.

    January 28, 2010 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  17. Bill

    So Judge Alito mouthed the words, "not true". Not much difference between that and "you lie". Is this a trend? Would our president twist his view of the truth to suit his own purposes? That's called lieing in the neighborhood where I grew up. If Pres. Obama had his way, there would be no separation of powers, just him. And I'm not just talking government, I'm talking everything. The world and all in it.

    January 28, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  18. Annie, Atlanta

    Justice Samuel Alito exposed himself last night as a political hack, and needs to be impeached. Justices are supposed to be impartial, or at least give the appearance of impartiality. The fact that he could not contain himself when the President spoke of that horrible decision last week letting corporations (many with foreign investors) buy into American politics (as if they don't have enough pull already) was telling. He needs to go. How many years is it going to take to clear out the Bush appointees with an agenda that are now sitting on benches across this nation?

    January 28, 2010 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  19. Anthony

    They are the one branch not accountable to the american people, and when they make a treasonous decision to have corporations infuencing our elections then they deserve to be confronted publicly. Too bad he could not have them arrested for such treason. The idea that corporations have to same rights as people is insane. When the shareholders may be foriegners!!! How can anyone think thats a good idea. We are heading for a corpocracy. If they want to make desicions behind close doors with no cameras and no accountability. They are big boys and they should be able to take the heat. Sam Alito almost broke out in tears. POOR BABY!! If they want to defend thier decision they are welcome in the situation room anytime im sure LOL

    January 28, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  20. An 8 year old ELEPHANT dung heap, does not transform into compost in just 1 year!

    The Reds on the Supreme Court have killed democracy as we know it.

    Every seat is now for sale to the highest bidder which will translate into the richest corporations.

    This decision has silenced the voice of the individual.

    January 28, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  21. fielding mellish

    Alito was way off base. Justices are supposed to give the appearance of impartiality, and Alito's sneer and mouthed comment crossed over into right wing bias. Disgraceful.

    January 28, 2010 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  22. Mickey

    Hmmmm...I sit here and wait for the Republican Party to speak out against this ruling...I wonder just how long I'm going to have to wait for a response from the GOP.

    The GOP has become nothing more than domestic terrorists.

    January 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  23. Reggie

    Obama is such a brat. Just because the supreme court ruled against one thing he is opposed to, he calls them "out". Sorry Obama, but it's NOT ALL ABOUT YOU!!!! You are not God.

    January 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  24. Brian

    Alito is clearly a Republican first, a Supreme Court Justice second. Shame on him.

    January 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  25. Barbara Independent in NY

    For anyone that thinks that the Supreme Court ruling won't affect our elections, Sarah Palin has a bridge to nowhere for sale.

    January 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
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