Saturday, January 30, 2010
Footnote to the State of the Union
After watching some of the news coverage following the State of the Union, I was struck by how much coverage was given to one part of it – President Obama’s criticism of the recent Supreme Court decision which potentially will change the way campaigns are run and financed. You can click here to read my whole analysis of the decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, but in essence the Supreme Court held that corporations are free to use their own money to run advertisements in support or against a candidate that is running for election.
In his speech, President Obama said, “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. 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 urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.” At he same time, the cameras apparently caught Justice Samuel Alito (who voted with the majority and was appointed by President George W. Bush) mouthing the words, “that’s not true” or something of the like.
The next day both Republicans and Democrats predictably lined up to criticize one and defend the other (Obama or Alito). Republicans were critical of the President for criticizing the Supreme Court as they sat right there and said that he did step over the bounds of separation of powers. Democrats criticized Alito for reacting in an unprofessional manner for a Supreme Court Justice. While the Supreme Court routinely attends the State of the Union Address, they are seen as the non-political branch of the government and therefore, they sit there and just listen without any reaction. Part of a Judge or Justice’s disposition is such that they are not supposed to pre-judge issues and simply decide cases on their own merits completely outside the world of politics. As such, they are supposed to be a-political. Well, both parties struck me that their criticism and or defense smacked of hypocrisy.
For the Republicans to say that the sitting President should not criticize the Supreme Court during the State of the Union, what do they say about all the times Republican Presidents have criticized justices for being “activist” and especially during the State of the Union, I can recall Presidents Reagan and both Bush’s criticizing Roe v. Wade and President Reagan routinely asked for a constitutional amendment to overturn it. I never heard any criticism then. Also, what if the Republicans had won in 2008? Do they really think that “President McCain” would have avoided the red hot issue when he has been a champion of campaign finance reform for much of his career? As a Senator, he has been critical of the decision and I expect, “President McCain” would have had something very similar to say.
As for Democrats, they were critical of Justice Alito for saying that the President wasn’t correct. As a side note, there is a lot of chatter in the legal community as to whether President Obama was right regarding the issue of foreign corporations. There is a debate whether or not the Supreme Court decision would extend to foreign companies or be limited to American corporations, so for Justice Alito to say that the President was wrong, could be right when it comes to the foreign corporations possible involvement.
So what do I think? I think they were both wrong, but for slightly different reasons. Justice Alito should have some composure as a Justice on the highest court on the land and be able to keep his thoughts to himself. Meanwhile, I have said since the case was decided that President Obama’s criticism is completely hypocritical as he has been the biggest campaign fund raiser by far in American politics. Also, one other thing that I have failed to mention in my prior posts on this Supreme Court decision is that it applies to labor unions as well. You don’t think that will help the President and his fellow democrats? As I’ve said, politics and money go hand in hand and the more the politicians try and separate the two, the more their OWN supporters will try and find the loopholes. If that’s not hypocrisy, what is?
Unfortunately, in a speech where the President tried to reach out to Republicans by espousing many of their ideas (tax cut and credits, off-shore drilling, earmark reform, etc.) and attempted to engage them on some of his issues like health care reform, the parties found something in the speech that could drive them farther apart. In a speech that was an attempt to set up bi-partisan talks, the partisans found a way to make a partisan issue. That’s why I am losing faith in national politics as a whole. It seems like even when there are a few individuals who will try and work together, most of the partisan players are more willing to try to bring the others down then they are in trying to enact meaningful legislation.