January 28th, 2010
11:09 AM ET
5 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. Red by Choice

    This is exactly why we have separation of powers. From my prospective, this is the absolute scariest attitude that Obama has expressed so far. God help us if he tries to usurp authority over the Supreme Court and end run the constitution. Yes, he may not like how the Court has ruled but his comments are unacceptable and traitorous.

    January 28, 2010 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  2. Last Dem Standing

    Let's break the duopoly of Republican and Democrats. It's killing the USA. The Supreme Court case was about limiting free speech. If you are concerned about foreign companies having political influence, then why don't you stop them from buying American corporations? Politicians are all full of hot air!

    January 28, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. Tuan from FL

    If GOPers don't want non-Americans to have citizens rights, then why are they so adament at defending the ruling. Any large corporation outside of America can and will spend alarge absurd amount of money on a candidate that they deem will be in their best interests. Special Interests groups are the ones slowing down the democratic process in the first place. Big businesses are the ones that are yelling about how government will tax them and make their earning less. But big business are also turning around and spending HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars to lobby against government. All this money they could be giving to their share holders are reinvesting in something that will be profitable for their company later. Big business DOES NOT CARE about the American people, it only cares about its bottom line. This ruling will put the American people in a worse hole than it is now

    January 28, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  4. Illinois 2

    These courts have not only proven to be out of touch, but also show which side of the fence their political views come from of which we all know is not suppose to be how this system is to work in accordance with the constitution of the united states of america. How much longer can the voters in this country vote for congress, senate and president without knowing how who they really are and what they stand for....

    January 28, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  5. SocialismBad

    Well isn't this par for the course for Obama??? Demonize and attack those that don't agree with him, even if they are the Supreme Court. Isn't Obama a lawyer and didn't he teach Constitutional law in college? I guess he thinks the Constitution and its guarantee of free speech only applies to Obama's friends.

    Talk about total disrespect for the justices that MUST sit there in silence even as they are denigrated and embarrassed. I guess they should just not come to next years address.

    For a person that TALKS about changing politics in Washington, Obama sure says one thing but practices another. This clown needs to be tossed out AND FAST!

    January 28, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. Nathan

    Yeah, only corporations like CNN should be allowed to influence voters LOL

    January 28, 2010 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  7. LifebyBob

    Obama is wrong. First of all give the American people some credit. We are not stupid. Next the Obama is demonizing business's that should not be demonized. I agree bank bonuses are out of control. But it is not up to the goverment to control them (unless they havn't paid there TARP money back). But what congress needs to do is give mutual fund managers more power to vote on company boards they hold stock in. Example: BAC does not deserve bonuses until there stock value returns and dividends are restored. The stock holders need more leverage in this area. That is what congress needs to enact as laws.

    January 28, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  8. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    So it's OK for the unions and other left-wing orgs to spend unlimited funds supporting dems, but not for corporations.

    Why are democrats such hypocrites!?

    January 28, 2010 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  9. Clint

    I am glad that the President took them on because it was an outrageous decision which will negatively impact how this country is run. It will set us back a hundred years to the time when the robber barons ruled Wall street and the corridors of government. For all of the libertarian and "keep the government out of business" persuasion, you should review the history of America about what results when business is allowed to do as it pleases. Also, where was Scalia last night, and the mute Justice, Clarence Thomas? I guess they were at a Heritage Foundation meeting.

    January 28, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  10. sharon

    He is VERY correct.
    Another country should not control our buisnesses.

    The CEO's of the largest, "too Big TO Fail",group continue to give themselves huge compensation plans,retirement funds,stock,perks,as well as bonuses......at a time when they are under a micro and should be. They have gotten away with ripping people off for far to long. I am tired of bailing out someone that is rich.

    January 28, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  11. Jeremiah

    That was a blatant lie by Obama or he just doesn't understand the SC decision. Apparently the Harvard law genius doesn't understand how to read court decisions. Nice way to draw attention away from his lack of ANY substance in his speech. This guy is doing nothing and people see it now. I also LOVED how he called out the repubs and dems on bickering, yet he has been doing it for the last year. What a joke.

    January 28, 2010 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  12. jennyskool

    I thouth the speech was great, but you must respect the Supreme Court decisions, as you want us to respect your decisions.

    January 28, 2010 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  13. Willa-PA

    The five justices that voted for this are instated by GOP presidents and is precisely the reason they voted for this, so, it is true that they would vote for the right wing policies who are for the corporations and big money. Why is it that just the conservative judges voted for and the liberal judges voted against it ?

    January 28, 2010 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  14. deegee

    Kudos Mr.Pres.Tell it.If not you then who. And whoes check did they cash for that ruling?

    January 28, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  15. Kevin in Ohio

    The democrats have NO respect for first ammendment freedoms. Or for the Constitution for that matter..... to them, the Constitution is something they can manipulate.

    January 28, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. etchasketch

    The only thing Obama's speech and the Republican response did for me last night was re-affirm my commitment to the 3rd party movement(s) in this country. The two-party system has beyond failed and the cherry on the cake with the Supreme Court last week- they might as well just put the United States of America on E-bay!

    January 28, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  17. Greg

    Obama's criticism would carry more weight if he would have been willing to accept public funding back when he was running for president. I guess our president is all for campaign finance reform just as long as it doesn't interfere with HIS spending advantage.

    January 28, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  18. Tom in Delaware

    Obama's remarks about the SCOTUS were disgraceful and completely inappropriate.

    How would you Progressives feel about the Chief Justice for the Supreme Court of the United States lamenting Health Care or Cap-N-Trade as being unconstitutional before they became law?

    Rationalize that.......

    January 28, 2010 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  19. Steph

    Another "You Lie" moment from the right. Don't parents on the right teach their children to be respectful?

    January 28, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  20. OldUncleTom

    We are at one of those rare moments when the President of the United States has almost as much standing on Constitutional issues, by education and experience, as the Justices themselves.

    Realizing that the Court cannot create legislation to render more palatable their decision, I hope that Congress will also do their part.

    The problem is not corporate spending on politics, it is ANONYMOUS corporate spending on politics. If I am to see a promotion of a political agenda, or candidate, I think I have a right to know where that promotion is funded... clearly, and in detail, no phoney "citizen groups" to hide their sources, Mr Armey.

    January 28, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  21. Felonious Monk

    Corporations should run America!
    They did a great job of running the economy, why not let corporations decide the fate of America?
    My question is, do we have more criminals in the private sector or the public sector?

    January 28, 2010 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  22. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Terrible decision by the high court. I'm glad the POTUS called them out on it as well. When did we become the United Corporations of America?

    January 28, 2010 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  23. El Kababa

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

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    Does anyone out there really believe that, due to First Amendment language, that a North Korean weapons corporation can create a non-profit corporation called "Americans for a Better Life" which will pour money into the campaigns of candidates who will vote against any sanctions on North Korea. Is this what George Washington and Benjamin Franklin really had in mind?

    January 28, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  24. James, Houston,TX

    The Corporation,like the "Indian"is not allowed to vote; Therefore "IT" too, should be restrained from political donations, Period!
    There's No Violation of 1st Amendment rights as we the people!
    Justice Alito should be Impeached.

    January 28, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  25. aware

    The king has no throne or no clothes! :(

    January 28, 2010 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
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