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State of Disunion

Posted By Deborah O'Malley On March 11, 2010 @ 2:00 pm In Legal | Comments Disabled

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President Obama has received criticism [2] from yet another Supreme Court justice concerning his inappropriate and unprecedented chastisement of the Court during the State of the Union address.  Obama criticized the Court’s recent campaign finance opinion while six of the justices sat before him, obviously unable to respond to the criticism during the address.

Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts told a group of University of Alabama law students that the State of the Union has “degenerated into a political pep rally” and, like his colleague Justice Thomas did just days after the event, questioned whether justices should attend at all.

“The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court – according the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”

Unsurprisingly, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to Roberts’ remarks with a statement that merely reiterated Obama’s criticism of the Court:

What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections – drowning out the voices of average Americans. The president has long been committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests and their lobbyists over government. That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response.

But this merely dodges the issue raised by the Chief Justice, which is not whether the decision was correct (it was), or whether the president is free to wrongly criticize it (he is), but whether the time and venue of that criticism were appropriate.  Indeed no one contends that the president overstepped his bounds by the mere act of speaking out against the decision.  Chief Justice Roberts agrees that anyone is free to criticize the Court, and contends that certain people even have an obligation to do so.  But “the setting, the circumstances, and the decorum” have to be taken into consideration.

Perhaps Obama should have stuck to a press statement in the first place.


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