January 28th, 2010
11:09 AM ET
13 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. LouAz

    Was it Will Rogers, "The best Congress money can buy" ?
    It is finally out in the open. They should all wear their Corporate Logos on their suits and dresses (Do ladies still wear dresses ?) like the NASCAR drivers. Election Laws should now be "administered" by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Exchange is the key word.
    We're screwed !

    January 28, 2010 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  2. republicans hate america

    Good for calling these activist judges out for what they are Obama. Im proud you have the guts to look at them in the eye to tell them to stop legislating from the bench.

    January 28, 2010 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. Bill NY

    The Dredd-Scott court of activist judges ruling from the bench!

    January 28, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  4. mishmarsh

    An interesting fact to note per the Supreme Court Justices and their vote on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

    The Justices were appointed as follows B= Bush(either one it really doesn't matter), C= Clinton, R= Reagan, O= Obama, F= Ford

    (R) = Republican (D) = Democrat

    Approving Judges Dissenting Judges
    Roberts = B (R) Ginsburg = C (D)
    Thomas = B (R) Stevens = F (D)
    Alito = B (R) Breyer = C (D)
    Scalia = B (R) Sotomayor = O (D)
    Kennedy = R (R)

    The vote rested squarely along political affiliation lines. Are Judges Politicians?

    January 28, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  5. Chuck, Tennessee

    Your president (yes, at this point I am not willing to call him my preseident as I did not vote for him) has no couth, no class, no political sense, and no economic sense

    January 28, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  6. Ben in Texas

    It is appalling that right wing spokesmen are standing up for the Extreme Court decision last week that allows corporations and unions to essentially buy politicians legally, in the name of "free speech". They see a partisan advantage to unlimited corporate contributions, but they ignore the long-term effects of blatant bribery on our fragile system of governance.

    I don't see how this decision can be allowed to stand, unless we are prepared for a takeover by foreign interests. Will we be satisfied to just hang a sign around the neck of each senator or representative that lists the corporate donors that own him or her? Something like, "Senator Sellout is brought to you through the courtesy of Deutsche Bank, ExxonMobil, and Sony Corp."?

    January 28, 2010 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  7. T'SAH from Virginia

    The BETTER mouthing off came from McCain when he reached over and said to the person next to him "...Blaming Bush..."!!


    This was right after President Obama mentioned how he "inherited" the MESS we are in. AND we DID inherited it and President Obama will get us out of it!!!

    January 28, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  8. Michele Westminster, CO

    Supreme Court...once again more people w/power that are looking out for the Big Guys.........what about the main street folks....we get screwed every which way.

    Thanks to the supreme court......our vote is not work the drive to the voting booth!!!!

    January 28, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  9. Wanda J. Brown

    Justice Alito showed his true colors and convinced me of what I
    believed during his confirmation. He has the judicial decorum of
    a snail. It was a STUPID decision that will corrupt further an election
    process that needs reforming too. And President Obama was right
    to call them out. This is a perfect example of Judicial activism. The
    very thing the Republicans tried to use against Sonja Sotomayor.
    Judicial hypocrisy is all I saw.

    January 28, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  10. Bedtime for Obonzo

    Ah, that pesky third branch of the federal government, getting in the way of the Beloved Leader's and his party's speech suppression attempts! I bet Hugo Chavez doesn't have this problem.

    January 28, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  11. GuyInVA

    If the president doesn't think that "American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities", is he willing to refuse, or maybe return, money given to his campaign by labor unions, or worse, by George Soros (Owner and CEO of the democratic party)? The ban on foreign involvement in American elections wasn't addressed in the SCOTUS decision. It remains in effect. It is amazing how the president states aloud an obvious falsehood and is given a pass. Justice Alito silently (and correctly) refutes the statement, and he is branded as inappropriate. "Calling out" the Supreme Court on its decision is inappropriate, and smacks of banana republic politics.

    The White House is already backing off the statement. The president apparently meant that this decision could lead to foreign interests trying to sneak in and influence American elections. George Soros maybe? It was a "senior administration official" (no name) that said that today... not the originator of the lie himself.

    January 28, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  12. Albert K., Esq. Human rights lawyer. L.A., CA

    We have words to describe operatives who aid foreign entities to influence our lawmaking and elections with unlimited cash bribes; traitor, conspirator, defector. It makes no difference when the agents are Supreme Court Justices acting under color of authority to commit that same national security high crime. Congress should impeach these five but Congress is also infested with global corporate loyalist believing corporations deserve human rights.

    January 28, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. Ann

    I think President Obama was correct in calling out the Court. By giving corporations individual rights we are opening up a door that will put even more MONEY and CORRUPTION in our demoracy.

    January 28, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  14. Mike

    Obama is a chronic liar who doesn't even have his facts straight about the Supreme Court ruling. He acts like an old lady with bad breath trying to get you to stay at her house a little longer........No thanks!

    January 28, 2010 06:00 pm at 6:00 pm |
  15. genyong

    the president has every right to rebuke these activist judges who redered these horrific decisions knowing that it will only benefit the gop and they do not care about what the american people want these five right wing judges should be ashamed of themselves

    January 29, 2010 03:35 am at 3:35 am |
  16. Dave Wenglekowski

    For business owners
    And employees, the
    Political impact is
    Often through the
    Companies we work for and Chamber of Commerce. If unions
    And mega rich people
    Like George Soros have access; then corporations should too. My company and
    The Chamber of Commerce are my union rep. Otherwise, I stand alone and watch those mentioned along with A.C.O.R.N. Work at fixing elections. The alternative is
    Straight debates for
    Every office and no
    One gets to spend or advertise at all! I
    Could go for that.

    January 29, 2010 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
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