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. Ryan

    Rethuglicans preach about judicial activism, but how can this decision be viewed as anything but.

    It was settled law, until Alito replaced O'Connor and obviously he will be in favor of this while she was against it. So they brought the case again before the court and the ruling was reversed. Where is the judicial outrage from the rethuglicans about activism. Hypocrites...

    January 28, 2010 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  2. John, Brooklyn, NY

    Justice Alito's behavior, while restrained compared to Joe Wilson's redneck frat house cat calls last year....represent a disturbing trend by the Republicans (whether in the legislative or judicial branches) to engage in personal attacks rather than constructively running our country.

    My hope and prayer for this country is that, regardless of ideology, we are led more by people who are reasoned and clear spoken like President Obama and less dependent on the leadership of people who seem to believe that the volume of their voice (Wilson) or snarkiness of their gestures (Alito) constitute statemenship.

    January 28, 2010 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  3. Mary

    Why did Ruth Bader Ginsberg attend the State of the Union when it looked like she was sleeping during most of it? This picture is very indicative of this statement.

    January 28, 2010 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  4. jane

    The worst "breach of political etiquette" was by Joe what's-his-name from SC last year when he yelled out, "You lie!" He should not have been allowed back this year.
    Last night, the President only voiced what we all know, that the Supreme Court made a disastrous decision for this country, and those responsible did so for purely political reasons. It has tainted the credibility of our highest court, to be sure.

    January 28, 2010 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  5. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    Justice Alito would not know reality if it bit him in the butt. Being a conservative evidently entitles you to being ignorant.

    January 28, 2010 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  6. Mike

    Adam Smith's "invisible hand" characterized a free market system that worked well 200 years ago in a society of individual small business artisans, bakers, butchers, carpenters and so forth.

    In today's global economy, dominated by large corporations and special interests, a free market as conceived by our founders can not and will not protect the well-being of the people.

    The Supreme Court's ruling is one more force that undermines the delicate balance and demonstrates that intervention in the market is needed to guarantee balance and fairness to all.

    January 28, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  7. bobby

    Yes.... so much for government by THE PEOPLE for THE PEOPLE. it is now by the CORPORATIONS (both foreign and domestic) for the CORPORATIONS (both foreign and domestic). I dont believe one other democratic country allows this gross amount of money into the election process.It will be a total abuse of power.so much for our vote meaning something we will be drowned out by all the special interests..This is a disgusting ruling!

    January 28, 2010 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  8. hobart

    The Supreme Court most certainly did not use judicial restraint in their recent decision on corporate finance of election campaigns.

    They took a narrow case and used it to undo a hundred years or more of election law, and in the process enacted the most egregious example of Supreme Court judicial activism in my lifetime. At least 8 of the justices were somber for their post decision portrait, perhaps realizing the magnitude of the implications of their decision, but Chief Justice Roberts could not contain he glee, chuckling at what he had just orchestrated.

    I predict that emboldened by this decision, this court, if they can get Justice Kennedy to go along, will unleash a reign of Judicial Activism unprecedented in American history, rivaled only by the Republican's use of the filibuster in the last 5-10 years.

    Why do Republicans hate America?

    January 28, 2010 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  9. Ferret out the BS

    How does the ability to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns equate to freedom of speech? What it does equate to is removal of a "leveling of the playing field," which is what campaing finance reform is supposed to do. It appears the High Court is trying to manipulate the political arena by allowing big business the ability to contribute as much as possible to a candidate of their choice. Who said liberal judges are activist, it seems conservative justices are just as activist.

    January 28, 2010 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  10. If you want something ruined, put a republican in charge

    According to the supreme court, since a corporation is now a citizen, then votes should be assigned on the basis of the value of a corporation. If a corporation is worth $3 billion, they should be given 50,000 votes in a presidential election, and the rest of us only one vote.

    January 28, 2010 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  11. chicana

    Not very smart for BO to attack the Supreme Court - BO should quit attacking those who disagree with his liberal agenda. Period.

    ONE WORD: ROOKIE!

    January 28, 2010 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  12. bzarr

    Anybody with common sense knows that this is not what the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the 1st amendment 230 years ago. The same goes for the 2nd amendment, if they would have had hand guns that had fifteen round clips, and could be reloaded in 2.5 seconds the 2nd amendment would be worded differently.

    January 28, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  13. Sam Sixpack

    This ruling will make it more difficult to make up news.

    January 28, 2010 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    The court's action was not in the best interest of its citizens, whether it met the test of law, or not.

    I consider the judiciary as totally corrupt in this country, and the law a joke, as the country is overrun with crime, primarily because we are doing nothing to contain or reduce crime. The law has been perverted, to favor the criminal, and protect the criminal, while citizens are being murdered daily.

    January 28, 2010 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  15. Paul

    A dangerous decision indeed. The last thing we need are special interest groups having more power. Imagine how difficult something like healthcare reform would become if pharmaceutical companies could buy out politicians with donations?

    At the very least, I don't think that the Supreme Court should even have heard the case in the first place. At its core, this was a political question, and as such it should have been resolved by the legislature.

    January 28, 2010 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  16. TCM

    the SC and the country should expect nothing less than the unrefined, unprofessional behavior from a street-thug activist called Obama...or whatever his name really is.....he's a disgrace to this country and all it stands for, and more and more people are seeing this; thus the tanking poll numbers.

    January 28, 2010 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  17. N. Merritt

    Bravo to President Obama regarding his State of the Union and for expressing his (and many American's) opinion regarding the recent vote by the Supreme Court recognizing corporations as people. This was an outrageous decision by the court and it needs to be reversed!

    January 28, 2010 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  18. Chandler

    President Obama was 100% correct about the Supreme Court decision. If you listen to the people, not the politicians, both democrats and republicans are horrified by this ruling which gives corporations the power of a citizen. It defies precedent and gives companies who already have a death grip on our political system even more power.

    January 28, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  19. Chip Pierce

    Sounds like the Supreme Court is bought and paid for, too.
    Now if only there was a terrorist attack, the GOP would be so happy!!!
    This country sucks.
    I think I'm starting to root for the terrorists, too.

    January 28, 2010 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  20. Lisa P

    If the Court is looking to overturn precedent (contrary to statements made by both Alito and Roberts at their confirmation hearings) then maybe they should take another look at the source for the bizarre notion that corporations are people (as opposed to being made up of people), with the same rights as actual, real... well, people. What next? Corporations get to vote in elections? Get tuition or dependent child tax breaks? Receive Social Security, or any other of the benefits enacted by law to promote Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness?

    Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy should be ashamed of themselves. Their narrow-minded ideology has produced a reduto ad adsurdum decision that exposes the Court to common sense ridicule - and rightly so.

    January 28, 2010 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  21. ForThePeople

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

    Hope that includes ACORN.

    January 28, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  22. Samuel

    It is rather unfortunate that the current High Court has become partisan. How on earth can 5 republicans in the court decide that only the rich can be elected to government service. Very ridiculous.

    January 28, 2010 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. Sam Sixpack

    If you can't muzzle on the opposition, how are you supposed to dupe your constituents?

    January 28, 2010 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  24. Kevin in Ohio

    And in 1973, the Supreme Court reversed MILLENIUMS of law and allowed the murder of unborn children. You can't have it both ways, Obama.

    January 28, 2010 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  25. Wisconsonite

    Who does Alito think he is?? God??? Since when or better yet, WHY, is it controversial for a sitting President, or any American citizen for that matter, to question a High Court Ruling??!! These Justices are appointed by Presidents who want to pust their own ideology, be that liberal or conservative. The Justices themselves, however, are SUPPOSED to be above ideology and are supposed to be non-political. Alito doesn't seem to be either!

    January 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
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