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. felicia

    He needed to do just that, this is what i see congress, scotus, house, dem, repigs, indep to me they all are working against President Obama. I mean why do they think his polocies are so bad. They need to watch my president back, because i don't trust any of them

    January 28, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  2. MatthewDetroit

    Barack is a liar.

    There is a reason why we have three branches of goverment.

    It is so the KING can not tell the courts what to do.

    Sorry Barack.. you cant just run rough shod over everyone.
    Maybe you need to talk to your boy Chavez.
    He will show you how to take over the courts as well.
    What a socialist.

    January 28, 2010 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  3. historian

    Wow. People are in the streets asking for an end to corporate greed and the supreme court opens the gates to let corporation influence voting. Sure hope this decision gets overturned.

    January 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  4. marissa

    Separation of powers. Checks and Balances. That is what makes this country work. If president Obama isn't happy with the supreme courts ruling then he should work with congress to make laws that don't violate the constitiution.

    January 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  5. Diane

    I mean't they CAN'T buy the process.

    January 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. MatthewDetroit

    And HE was worried about being called a LIAR in the HOUSE during his speech.

    Gloves are off now little boy.

    You are a liar FACT.
    And you are a terrible person.
    You have NO RIGHT to call out the Supreme Court.
    There is seperation of govement you bungling idiot.

    January 28, 2010 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  7. cedgar

    For the President to call out the Supreme Court in the speech was wrong. Our President should be above being a school yard bully.
    Could some one please check President Obama ID and see if he is
    really in his teen's, because that is how he acted last night.

    He needs to learn some respect for the office he holds.
    Than maybe he will be respected.
    Respected is earned not just given.

    Oh and most of us serfs out here are not as stupid as some think we are. We are just watching, listening and researching.

    January 28, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  8. Ben in Texas

    CNN shows its pro-corporate bias in this statement:

    "Democrats fear the decision has given the traditionally pro-business GOP a powerful new advantage."

    Some Democrats may indeed be fearful of losing elections due to vast corporate contributions to their opponents, but this is hardly the most salient point. The Extreme Court has just opened the door to foreign nationals legally buying U.S. politicians through bribes, and it calls that "free speech". Nothing could be more corrupting to our constitutional system than what the court has just done.

    I don't care if it is a Democrat or a Republican. I don't want any politician in MY government to be on the payroll of a corporation or union, and especially one controlled by foreigners who may be hostile to America and democracy.

    What insanity could possibly have brought the court to such a decision?

    January 28, 2010 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  9. MatthewDetroit

    Barack is a hypocrite.

    He turned down the public financing that he once agreed upon so that he could take millions and millions of un documented campaign donations.

    He is lying again.
    If he wanted to he could have only accepted the public dollars. He chose not too. Sorry you can have it both ways barack. You can not accept millions from the Unions and then not allow corporate america into the fight.
    The guy really thinks he is the King.

    You are an embarassment barack.

    January 28, 2010 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  10. Don J

    This is why there should be an impeachement process for Supreme Court Justices and Alito should be the first to have the honor of being impeached, he belongs on the bench like a dog from the Republican party deserves to be President, and I mean a real 'animal' dog, how can you have confidence in a government when disgraces to the US of A such as Alito serve in such high positions, it is a disgrace and an affront to the American people!

    January 28, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  11. Mark

    Thank goodness we have the separation of powers. I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld the First Amendment.

    I think it was shameful for the President to try to shame the Supreme Court, especially in this setting. He needs to respect our Constitution and our three branches of government.

    January 28, 2010 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  12. fools and their freedoms are soon parted

    RE: "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.

    Thaty is a bold face LIE

    January 28, 2010 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  13. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests"

    So does this mean Obama will be returning the 100's of thousands of dollars he got from banks, finanacial institutions and other corporations?

    January 28, 2010 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  14. Willy Brown

    Obambi’s immature moment of the evening

    January 28, 2010 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  15. Hugo

    "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."
    ________________________________________________________

    Then Obama shouldn't mind a full open audit and disclosure of his campaign funding during the last election...

    January 28, 2010 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  16. matt

    Obama alienates another part of our government, I don't think this president is qualified for the position he holds. It was quite embarrasing to listen to him.

    January 28, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  17. jim

    The rich and the foreigners control this country, thanks to our wonderful government. You think we have it bad now? Wait until the rich and the foreigners rape our good country more that what they already have. America is doomed. The rich can move away, and the foreigners aren't here in the first place, but the average American is left here to eat dirt, because that is what the rich and the foreigners will give us. Our government as a whole is to blame.

    January 28, 2010 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  18. MR RIDICULE....

    State of the Union speech....Obama managed to ridicule all: Supreme court, Bankers, corporations his party and the GOP party; who does he think he is? The speech was muddled and most boring.

    .......this is what incompetants do...ridicule others................................

    January 28, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  19. Mike

    Why are Democrats afraid of a fair playing field?

    January 28, 2010 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  20. Chanel

    I understand why they made the decision they made. They made it according to the law, and not the welfare of the American people. Okay... so if congress is so OUTRAGED, lets get a bill passed to amend the constitution to undo what the Supreme Court just did.

    There is NO reason for congress NOT to change this. I hope the American people are watching closely, because when it comes to a bill in congress to keep corporations out of politics, who is for it, and who is against it will be the TELL ALL SIGN of who is being bought, and who is not.

    Watch America... watch.

    If you think the economy is bad now... see what happens when Wall Street and the big businesses of the world can buy politics... say good bye to small businesses.

    January 28, 2010 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  21. in AK

    NObama again, acting so arrogant, still doesn't know how to run the economics of this contry, didn't get a lot of cheering when he said he proposed, but got rejected, in trying to make a commission that would decide implementing higher taxes, and program cuts. so pathetic!

    January 28, 2010 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  22. JesseH

    How dare Alito whisper "not true" to himself. He should have acted more appropriately, like Pelosi and Biden cackling and jumping up like they were at a pep rally every time Obama took a childish shot at Bush or Congressional Republicans.

    January 28, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  23. steve

    Mr. Obama had no problems accepting campaign donations from foreigners during his presidential campaign. It was very easy for him to do once his campaign disabled the address verification system for credit card donations. What's good for the goose....

    January 28, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  24. Barry In Las Vegas

    It is only OK with Obama if the Unions are allowed to funnel multi-millions into the Demorats coffers, or to have General Electric subvert the law by using their msnbc and NBC networks promote Mr. Obama's agenda and run favorible stories for his party.

    Now the playing field is getting leveled – and that is what Obama and the Democrats don't like.

    January 28, 2010 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  25. Four and The Door

    Attending such a speech, Denniston said, involves the justices in a "political circus" that can damage a justice's image of impartiality.
    _____________________________________________________
    ...and certainly the best 3 word summary of Obama's Stae of The Union speech last night is," A Political Circus". I was surprised at some of the liberties his speech writers took toward making this just another campaign stop for the Obama train.

    January 28, 2010 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
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