Friday, January 29, 2010

A Supreme Political Scuffle

The Obama-Alito controversy has been gathering steam in the blogosphere and mainstream media. Setting aside the correctness of the Supreme Court’s decision for the time being, there are a number of interesting issues that have arisen. First of all, there is the issue of etiquette and precedence. Second, is the issue of the media’s and the Democrats’ treatment of the scuffle-by-proxy.

During the President’s State of the Union address, Obama criticized a recent Supreme Court ruling regarding campaign financing.  He stated, "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." (See video at Real Clear Politics). In response, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, one of the justices who voted in favor of the ruling, shook his head in disagreement and apparently mouthed “not true”.  What was "not true" from his perspective is not clear.  According to etiquette, the members of the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) are separated from general politics-as-usual. They and their decisions are never directly attacked and they refrain from displays of political support or disdain.

First, there is room for discussion on whether the historical procedures of etiquette are worthwhile or should be followed. Should the SCOTUS and its decisions be respected and left independent? Or like the majority of our government are they fair game for political attacks? ANR tends to believe that the Supreme Court should maintain a position above politics to assure the objectivity of its decisions. This has historically been the norm, forcing Presidential disagreements to be at most muted and often unsaid. Particularly, this has been true in large, public announcements or speeches such as the State of the Union. Obama clearly breached this etiquette by becoming the first President to attack the SCOTUS in a State of the Union address. If one ascribes to the view that this etiquette is important than Obama’s breach is particularly worrisome. If, on the other hand, one has no concern for such precedent then one should simply shrug their shoulders and move on.

However, this has not been the response of the Democrats or some in the MSM. This brings us to the second point. The Democrats have gone on the attack, targeting Justice Alito for his response. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-VT attacked Alito by stating “There were days when judges stayed out of politics. It would be nice to go back to those days.”  NBC, which spoke to Leahy, supported this storyline in the very title of their article, “Justice openly disagrees with Obama in speech.” NBC’s story focused on how this was Alito’s “Joe Wilson moment”, yet diminished Obama’s greater breach of etiquette.

Now, as said before there is room for debate on the importance of such etiquette; but if anyone is to blame it is Obama, not Alito. Obama was the first to break ‘the rules’. It is only understandable that Alito, who most likely did not expect to be attacked, would momentarily lose his composure. Yes, Alito broke etiquette, but it was in a far less severe and public fashion than Obama. All eyes and ears were on the President; everyone heard what he said. Alito was merely an observer who responded in arguably an unfortunate way.

The Democrats’ response and the very fact that Obama took the unprecedented step of criticizing the SCOTUS displays the outrageous arrogance and rampant populism of the administration. The arrogance comes from Obama’s unrelenting quest to attack anyone and everyone with whom he disagrees, regardless of position, etiquette, or precedent. All of this is in the name of his populist bent, appealing to ‘the people’ as a Washington “outsider”. In this instance it is particularly damning given the history of Presidents (eg FDR) who have had much more serious issues with Supreme Court decisions yet remained mum. If the etiquette is important, Obama is the culprit; if it is not then no one should be to blame. Attacks on Alito are just downright inappropriate.


  1. Josh--

    You're familiar with my position on this issue already, but I think you piled on way too much here. As you know, I prefer to comment directly on ANR, but my word count was too long, so I excerpted some of your text and posted my rebuttal in full:


  2. Karl~

    Thanks for writing. I replied on The Bootleg Press.



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