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. Marc

    'Most Republicans have defended the ruling, calling it a long overdue recognition of First Amendment rights'
    Translation: 'Most Republicans have defended the ruling since they now can (and probably will) accept as much money as they can take (or more) for their campaigns.'
    Not that Democrats or Independents cannot take the money as well, as they most probably will, but at least those last two groups of politicians have issues about MONEY and not IDEAS being the key factor in poltical campaigns.

    January 28, 2010 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  2. gary davis harbor oregon

    justice ALITO needs to step down . congress needs to ask for him to step down , he broke a rule badly for even showing his political ideals during the speech . shame on him and shame on the congress if they don't demand him to resign as justice of our supreme court .
    plus its not a first amendment right to be able to out bid everyone for political gain. power becomes unjust and the court stepped out of line by wanting to allow these types of practices . big big money . please MR. President put a stop to it now . :)

    January 28, 2010 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  3. babaganusch

    The court decided the way it did because that is what the 1st Amendment to the Constitution calls for. They are not supposed to decide cases based on which political faction may or may not have a problem with their decision, or because they think it is a good idea or a bad idea.

    The political arena is now free to come up with legislation that will move the needle in whichever direction popular opinion will support, as long as it remains constitutional of course.

    Finally, it looks like someone should have nudged Judge Ginsburg awake before the picture was taken.

    January 28, 2010 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. CONNIE

    why can the Unions back a president but corporations can't. Doesn't seem right and the Supreme Court made the right decision.

    January 28, 2010 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  5. Pam from Iowa

    Go Obama!!!!

    January 28, 2010 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  6. Orange Curtain, CA

    Yes Alito is full of. Can't handle the TRUTH Sam. It is what it is. Don't sit there mocking the President and acting like a baffoon.

    January 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  7. Average American

    Justices are supposed to be impartial and are supposed to uphold the constitution. Justice Alito proved to be a far-right wing judicial activist. Sadly, our country will pay for the decision of 5 of the judges to overturn 100 years of laws and Supreme Court decisions.

    January 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  8. 8 Years of “trickle down economics” has only left a wet spot on our shoes!

    Not only did this ruling kill democracy in this country, but Roberts should be impeached for lying to Congress.

    He stated in his approval hearings he would FOLLOW the precedent of the Court and not "legislate" from the bench.

    He did EXACTLY that, when he agreed to overturn TWO precedents that had been in place for decades.

    January 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  9. Steph

    If corporations have all the rights and responsibilities of American people, then they should have to serve jury duty.

    January 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  10. Gale

    When any one person or persons of the United States try and go against the Supreme Court of the land, the people of the United States better start practices to say "Heil Obama" Right hand up, left hand down!!!

    January 28, 2010 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  11. Jimmy James

    The justice didn't speak out. He was caught on cam mouthing and shaking his head. It's not outrageous. What is outrageous is a President can stand there and lie to the American public and anyone who disagrees is vilified. A democracy can only survive with debate not conformity. Obama lied. It doesn't allow foreign companies to buy elections. Fact checker confirmed it. He also talked about no lobbyists in the White House, yet again Fact Checker stated it is a lie ( they used "not true") . Enough fake outrage that is trying to distract from the fact that this country is hurting. If the President wants to continue down the path of ignoring citizens, he can kiss the huge majority he has in the house and senate goodbye. Then he can blame the republicans and Bush more for nothing getting done. The speech was a waste of time.

    Oh yeah, he is in Tampa for the high speed train project that he said will create thousands of jobs this year. It doesn't start construction till 2011. Just another lie that democrats will ignore.

    January 28, 2010 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  12. ObamasRecordDefict

    I guess "NOT TRUE" is a better way of saying "YOU LIE".

    OBOZO is a joke. The reference of Jimmy Carter version 2 is coming true.

    January 28, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  13. Diane

    Ah, but Justice Alito – it is true. There need to be restrictions to prevent corporations or other entities from corrupting the political process. Putting such restrictions on these entities in no way violates their "freedom of speech". They can still give money, they just can buy the process.

    January 28, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  14. Greg, MN

    First, I wish there was no money allowed to be spent on elections, or a very low total cap.

    Obama is flat out wrong about foreign contributors. I looked it up this morning. The ruling specifically notes that it does not effect the rules against foreign contributions of any type.

    Either Obama is talking about things he doesn't know (ignorant) or he is lying to the American people to win votes.

    January 28, 2010 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  15. Sam Sixpack

    There are no gloves and no showdown. This is a horrible decision for Obama. If he can't keep lying while making the opposition shut up, he will be exposed for who he is - oops, too late.

    January 28, 2010 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  16. sammieb51

    This court has made some quite questionable decisions - the eliminations of citizens protections for eminent domain and the Gore V Bush - who are these guys for anyhow? I thought they were an independent body that based their decisions on law, not on political swayings ..... Talk about a "constitutional crisis".

    January 28, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  17. Robert

    First, the SCOTUS did not open the flood gates to unlimited spending, The SCOTUS merely said you cannot ban a corporate entity from engaging in such speech as was the previously law. Thus, corporate entities have the right to free speech as individuals do.

    Second, the court by being independent and objective is not supposed to think of the ramifications of a decision. That is for the Congress. As in this case the court said you cannot ban a corporation from participating in the political process via advertising. Congress now may place limits on such advertising.

    Congress has made this constitutional issue into a political one when in true it is not. The court said corporations have a right to the freedom of speech. Congress now has the ability to place spending limits on such speech it just cannot tell a corporation what it can and cannot say.

    January 28, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  18. stevegee

    The only reason Obama and the liberals are upset over the ruling is because now their campaign supporters, like Daddy Warbucks (aka George Soros), will have political competition.

    Thanks to the Supreme Court, the American people, and any domestic business, can once again freely promote whomever they want to in an election.

    It's called Free Speech. And it should never have been restricted to favor the Democrats.

    January 28, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. David

    This show how the Republicans want the free flow of money start rolling in including foreign corporations. So we the American people call their senators and representatives and they'll replie " This is US Senator Wal-Mart or Senator BP or This is congressman Timken or Diebold. This totally wrong and I agree with the former justice Sandra O'Connor in the New york times where she believes the floodgate of money will flow where no one will be sure what the outcome will be.

    January 28, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    Justice Alito was wrong to do what he did. He wasn't as bad as Joe Wilson. The decision that Alito signed onto will hinder the chance for those that should be elected or those that have the ambition without money from being able to run for elected office. The court complete ignored past finding showing that extra money in an election contributes to the corruption in that office.

    January 28, 2010 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. 8 Years of 2 Wars and Tax Breaks, did the shrub pass out in Econ 101 at Yale?

    I notice Alito, has had no follow up on his "not true" mouthings.

    Why? Because he knows that there are now no checks on the spending by corporations and he cannot offer a rebuttal to either President Obama or Leahy's claims.

    "You LIE" Alito!

    January 28, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  22. Stop the Nonsense

    Mr Obama is not the first president to rebuke the Supreme Court.
    With all his victories, George W did it more than once. Just becuase they make a ruling doesn't mean that it will be popular and in some cases, a new law is needed to overtake the ruling.
    This is a prime example of a ruling that is flatly wrong. and needs a law to irradicate it.

    January 28, 2010 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  23. gp

    Activist judges out number by 5 to 4 judges that exercise restraint.

    Roberts and Alito apparently forgot they told congress during their confirmation hearings that they respected precedent.

    Sounds like they are singing a different tune these days.

    Thanks to Bush, these two will be on the court for decades. But that was the intention anyway. To put highly privileged yet relatively low life experienced individuals on the court that would grease the skids for corporate interests.

    In other words, sell outs.

    January 28, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  24. Biased

    As quoted:
    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.

    Of course Democrats would never admit that their leader was most unpresidential during that attack last night. It was a shame that he felt he had the right to do this since it was obvious it was a prepared comment . What was just as disgusting was the democrats jumping to their feet clapping and cheering and showing their ridicule as well. It left a bad taste in my mouth and after checking out different sites last night even more disgusting that his interpretation may not be as accurate as he led everyone to believe.

    January 28, 2010 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  25. Prevaricator

    "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."

    President Obama said it all and it needed to be said. We the people are being undermined in all directions by the selfish self interests of Corporate America. We the people do not want our gov't controlled by foreign nationals in any shape or form.

    January 28, 2010 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9