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. KLS

    I totally agree with President Obama!!
    "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities."

    January 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  2. Mrs. S Callahan

    Interesting the ones who clapped the loudest have the most to fear come election time.....and based on their body language,including facial expressions...they are afraid and should be!

    January 28, 2010 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  3. Wisconsonite

    One more thought here:

    How many times have we heard Republicans question the Supreme Court ruling regarding Roe v Wade??? Republicans, once again doing what they seem to do best these days, being hypocrites!

    January 28, 2010 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  4. John

    Yes the gloves should come off and the "activists" justices appointed by the republican presidents should be impeached for lying to congress during their confirmation hearings.

    January 28, 2010 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  5. Steve

    Considering that an unlimited ability of corporations to fund political campaigns has absolutely nothing to do with free speech – it is appalling that the Supreme Court based their decision on the First Amendment. Most voters know that the candidate most able to fund their campaign has the best chance of winning...

    January 28, 2010 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  6. AXH

    A President should not scold members of the Supreme Court in public as Obama did. This is wrong!

    January 28, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  7. vegage

    I am really scared about this decision. Definitely this country will be governed by big companies. Usually big businesses are more favorable to republicans because usually republicans are pro big business interests. So now big business not having any restrain in the money they can spend or donate to candidates, they are going to take advantage of this new ruling to promote candidates that are pro big companies. I think that is a very bad thing for a democracy, regular people will not have an even field to compete. REALLY hurt the back bone of democracy in this country.

    January 28, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  8. Brian

    Alito is an idelogue, pure and simple. His reaction to the president's remark last night tarnished the entire Supreme Court. Better to have sat there and listened and curbed his emotions, as his colleagues did. Lost a huge amount of credibility with the American people. Nice going Sammy!

    January 28, 2010 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  9. JonDie

    Samuel Alito is a piece of horse manure.

    January 28, 2010 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  10. gate

    Alito knows it is true and that's why he decided that way. He is not am impartial judge. He is a partisan. He wants to pour corporate money in the Republican coffers. He is the definition of an activist judge.

    January 28, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  11. Steve in Ct

    I feel no special interest should have power as anentity. All campaign financing should be allotted evenly to candidates by the government. Our forefathers were smart enough to close the pubs during the elections to avoid influencing voters and we're not smart enough to avoid special interest influence. I don't want the welthy and powerful to have any more say in guiding America than I myself have. One voter ~ one vote. Each are equal.

    January 28, 2010 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  12. jenn, philadelphia

    It was completely inappropriate of the President. It was neither the place nor the time to criticize the Supreme Court.

    January 28, 2010 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  13. Sue

    This was WRONG and Obama should have known better.

    Unfortunately for Obama and the Dems-–based on all polls--the majority in the country support and approve of the decision by the Supremes.

    Little by little, day by day............Obama and the Dems are turning our country into a bananna republic.

    January 28, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. jfs Memhis, Tn

    Not very well thought through. These folks in Washington forget it is about us and not politics. If the USA were currently being formed, as in the 1780's, and with the NO and "its my career " attitude currently in Washington Government , we would be no further now then before the American Revolution. Both parties are not representing the United States as a whole...only their districts.....screw the rest of America.

    January 28, 2010 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  15. Michael from Ventura

    Alioto is one of the Court who has made landmark decisions for the right. He can frown all he wants, and even play Joe Wilson, but the fact remains that he and four others has set back democracy in the country.

    January 28, 2010 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  16. al in memphis

    Did you ever wonder what really causes your computer to lock up. It's call so many conflicting processing actions that the computer does not know what or how to produce results.

    This government is just plain stuck– commen sense tells us that voters are swayed by negative campaigns. The kind you buy with lots of money. Corporations and special interest have got more money than the American public.

    You can kiss intelligent, informed elections goodbye

    January 28, 2010 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  17. Scott Martin

    The President, in his comments on who would have too much influence through campaign contributions, CONVENIENTLY OMITTED
    THE FACT THAT LABOR UNIONS WOULD ALSO HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE UNLIMITED CONTRIBUTIONS. This omission seems to indicate that he has no problem with such contributions when they are made to those who support his policies and his party.

    January 28, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  18. Daniel Schlafer

    Thank you President Obama for standing up to the special interests who will benefit from the Supreme Court decesion to all corporate campaign contributions !

    January 28, 2010 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  19. Mesa Mick

    CJ Roberts and his "Gang of Four" other republicans on the SC made the worst decision since the Dred Scott affair.

    Thanks to right wing judicial activism it has become official;
    "Goverment OF the people BY the corporations FOR the corporations".

    Thank you Mr. President for blasting the worst SCOTUS decision in our history of our nation in public during your STOU address. These five SCJs had it coming.

    Now, congress has to fix this mess pronto by passing laws that regulate political contributions by US corporations and outlaws political contributions by foreign corprorations...

    January 28, 2010 02:18 pm at 2:18 pm |
  20. lifelong democrat

    Obama should apologize to the US Supreme Court, it was downright embarassing, disrespectful for the third branch of the govt. We have separation of power, any democrats who applauded Obama berating the US supreme court SHOULD be voted out of office.

    As always Obama remain clueless, classless, doesn't get it and all about me, I.

    Obama should take a look at his own fundraising in 2007, foreign donation poured into his campaign. The FIRST AMMENDMENT was restored by US Supreme Court decision. I supported it.

    January 28, 2010 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  21. Enough is Enought

    Obama proved that he had no respect for the court when he chose a less qualified person to be on it because they were a minority and a female.

    January 28, 2010 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  22. Gorley Amusen

    While we are about criticizing the Supreme Court for decisions, Obama, please ask the lawmakers to make laws to also stop killing American babies.

    January 28, 2010 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  23. Peter E

    For somebody who outspent his opponents by 2-1 in his campaign (and rather wastefully, barely got more votes than they) Obama sure gets upset if somebody else gets campaign cash. Buying political influence is wrong and anti-democratic, no matter how small the individual donation is. It is still about trying to buy more influence than you're entitled to, which should be one person, one vote.

    January 28, 2010 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  24. Worker2010

    This was a bad Supreme Court decision. Now, the talibans will give money to the next senator or governor in suppose of their causes.

    January 28, 2010 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  25. gt

    the congress respected obama last night ,,, he turns around and chides the court,,,more double speak from this snake oil salesman,,,

    January 28, 2010 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
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