January 28th, 2010
11:09 AM ET
8 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. katiec

    Our government needs to do everything they can to turn over this Supreme Court ruling. They have taken away our most precious freedom, giving the control of elections to big business, even foreign corporations.
    And these are people we are supposed to honor and trust, judges who are not supposed to let their political preferences enter into any decision. Wow, they prove that is no longer true.

    January 28, 2010 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    Alito is naive if he thinks that an unrestrained flow of money from corporations will not increase their influence on elections – especially judicial elections.

    The Supreme Court decision was wrong on its face.

    Here's a simple test: Can a corporation breathe, you know, like a person?

    Answer: No.

    Conclusion: A corporation is a not a person and therefore is not protected by the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, the Preamble of which is, "We The People" – not "We The Corporations".

    January 28, 2010 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  3. juge

    Alito is not my idea of who or what a Supreme Court Justice should be!

    January 28, 2010 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  4. Chuck

    Frankly, I'm less interested in State of the Union etiquette when institutionalized discrimination and blatant subjugation of our gay American brothers and sisters continues to exist in the United States of America. This etiquette misstep is a footnote compared to our deeply shameful behavior towards our thousands of gay men and women in the military. The media will make mountains over this unspoken rule while playing right along with our government in making molehills out of civil and human rights abuses.

    January 28, 2010 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  5. Sam Sixpack

    Free speech is bad for the lie brokers.

    January 28, 2010 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  6. D.

    Obviously not true, about foreign corporation, so saying "not true" is a very mild reaction, and an understandable one. Lying from the WH continues!!

    January 28, 2010 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  7. Danny J

    What is political circus is Obama chastising the Supreme court while they are sitting there, knowing that they do not respond or defend themselves. It's very disrespectful.

    January 28, 2010 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  8. Bill

    Justice Alito, in his confirmation hearings, said that he would uphold laws, not make new ones., and as far as I know there is separation of the three branches of government, and there is still freedom of speech.

    I did not hear the Republicans trash Joe Wilson when he embarrassed the President before, so the Republicans are way out of line in criticizing the President when he says what the thinks about the Republican appointed Supreme Court decision.

    The President is due freedom of speech just like Joe Wison had.

    January 28, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  9. Rick CT

    It's OK for St. Barack to say whatever he pleases and criticize whomever he wants – but if Alito had verbally responded like Joe Wilson did.......

    St. Barack has never mentioned hat the Supreme Court ruling also gives his union backers open season on political ads. And he was reported to be considering legislation that would require corporations to get shareholder bote approval before they could spend money. Would he also requireunion membership vote approval. Of course not. The bottom line for St. Barack and his gang is that freedom of speech is OK as long as you support his views.

    He's still reeling from the Massachusetts debacle and his reaction is to lash out to all who may disagree with his attempt to have Big Brother take over our lives. This isn't Chicago – there is an opposition.

    January 28, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  10. Eric

    I'm a conservative guy and didn't vote for the current president. But when that doofus shouted "You lie" during the president's address to Congress last yaer, I agreed it was rude. He didn't violate any laws by his actions, but he showed a lack of judgment and lack of class. In certain settings you respect the office, if not the officer.

    However, this time the shoe was on the other foot. The president didn't violate any laws by using the State of the Union speech to criticize a Supreme Court decision with which he disagreed; he was free to choose that course of action. But it showed a lack of judgment and a lack of class too. The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of the government; the president should have respected the office even if he did not agree with the decision.

    And having made that decision, the president should not be offended if his breach of decorum drew a reaction from one of those he was criticizing.

    January 28, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  11. Michael

    Yet more evidence that to Republicans, hard-working Americans like 95% of us are nothing but pack animals whose only justification for existence is the value our labor adds to some fat shareholder's portfolio.
    Words cannot express my disgust for such a contemptuous attitude towards the founding principles of America (and indeed towards humanoty in general), so I will not try. I do hope and pray that these people get the opportunity to learn what they have done by experiencing the same circumstances the rest of us face: unemployment, lack of medical attention, homelessness, anguish, and sarcastic condescension from those with the power to help.

    January 28, 2010 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  12. jeff jackson, alabama

    The will of the people and the laws of the
    courts mean nothing to socialists. God,
    morals, laws, democracy , family all are
    second fiddle to the desires of socialist
    leaders. In the long run they put the State
    above all. The lower they sink the higher
    they rise in their party.

    January 28, 2010 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  13. Rick CT

    No bias in CNN's reporting. The headline "Did Alito 'mouth off' ". the implication is certainly negative and a reference, backed up by the report, that Alito may have been out of order. But, as implied by CNN, it's OK for Obama to 'mouth off' and he did.

    Sorry to the Obama backers – hif he raises something in that forum – that kind of reaction by those closely involved is not inappropriate. Raising the issue in that forum was.

    January 28, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  14. Thank you Massachusetts

    Leahy said "That is not the America i grew up in"

    Guess what, this is not the America I grew up in either. The America I grew up in still had a reverence for God and the Bible, did not allow the legal termination of the unborn baby, did not accept homosexuality as "normal" and never dreamed there would be those who promoted it, realized pornography was not something children should be exposed to, and would not have legalized gambling because they knew of the dangers it posed to families and society in general. The Democratic party supports all of this. Leahy and cohorts need to realize the country is not supporting their agenda which has been/will be the demise of America.

    January 28, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  15. bobby

    Alito should have just thrown a shoe.

    January 28, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  16. Linda

    The Supremes should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. THey've sold the American People to the highest bidder with the deepest pockets. So long, democracy!

    January 28, 2010 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  17. Nick , California

    Finally Obama kicked the Dems in their butt!! I don't affiliate myself with any political party but certainly like to see the Pres. vent his frustration along with the people of this country! The Dems had the majority and were so caught up in partisanship they got nothing done. Now is the time to cut funding for a lot of programs to bring us back on track! It's going to piss off many people, but the time for talk is over and it must be done! We are setting the example for our children.. we must show them that its not easy to save and to cut expenses, but that life is full of hard choices that must be made in order reach our goals.

    January 28, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  18. Grrr-Awful-O

    Has Biden asked the Supreme Court if they like beer yet?

    January 28, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  19. NH Independent

    Obama says none truths...what new about that?

    January 28, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  20. Shelly

    Glad our President spoke up.... and it conveyed how the American people are feeling about their diminished voting power. Due to the ridiculous decision by the SCOTUS, the American voter's individual voice will be extinct. It is 'We the Corporations' instead of 'We the People'. The five ( Republican) activist judges will now see their democracy decline right in front of their eyes. Like they care about the People NOT!.

    January 28, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  21. Jennifer

    BLIND CHICKEN is what i call The president. I don't think he cares what is happening with heath care and the trillions of dollars he spends.

    January 28, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  22. Steve (the real one)

    I look at the decison this way. This is bringing to light what has been going on in the dark forever! Unions and corporations have been donating funds to candidates (ever heard of lobbyists?). They trade dollars for benefical legislation! I wonder why the CEO of the SEIU was a guest of Pelosi last night? Some dude named Hu went to jail over foreign donations to Pres. Clinton! Maybe the alarm is now the light is on and the process is now open! Anybody think democrats won't get their piece of the pie as they have been all along? Ridiculous! Obama set records for the amount of money he raised. Where is this great concern coming from now?

    January 28, 2010 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |

    Didn`t Alito once say that he would recuse himself from a court case involving a bank that he had financial ties to then stayed on and rendered a verdict in favor for that bank? I think that should have been looked into and kept him off the SCOTUS and incarcerated if true. If it isn`t true I apologize for impugning his character

    January 28, 2010 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  24. FL

    Everyone is supposed to forget that Obama's donate online deal, that raised millions for his campaign, was a way for people overseas to donate to his campaign. Talk about a hypocrite.

    January 28, 2010 03:29 pm at 3:29 pm |
  25. Informed Voter

    It is so clear the political leanings of Justice Alito, to turn this country backwards, granting human rights to corporations, and limiting women's rights to privacy. Hopefully this latest judicial injustice by the activist right wing of the Supreme Court can be rectified by the other branches of government.

    January 28, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
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