Obama v. Roberts
I am writing this not as an evangelist or even a believer. I am not writing this as an Israeli. I am not writing this as a conservative or Republican. I am simply writing this as a U.S. Citizen who was genuinely stunned at the behavior of the president during his State of the Union address.
Legislators stand and applaud the presidents rebuke of the Supreme Court.
I was so happy earlier this week to read that Supreme Court Justice John Roberts finally spoke out concerning President Obama’s spanking of the Supreme Court from the bully pulpit of his State of the Union address, even if Justice Roberts’ response was reluctant and non-specific.
To refresh your memory President Obama called out the Supreme Court for their 5-4 ruling in a case connected to campaign finance, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said. “Well 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 that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”
Was he right? I don’t care. That is not the point (Although, according to experts he was misinformed regarding the idea that foreign entities would be able to “bankroll” American elections.) Wrong place, wrong time—that’s the point. It is certainly within the rights of the US President to disagree with the opinion of the Supreme Court — but in the Capital building, during his State of the Union address? Not cool Mr. President.
The Supreme Court Justices were surrounded by both houses of Congress and when President Obama made his remarks, a swarm of gleeful, child-like senators and congressmen jumped up and clapped in the faces of the sitting justices in the most rude and intimidating way.
I don’t doubt that our congressmen and senators are some of the brightest, most innovative people in our country. But they seem to have a Mr. Hyde side as well, where they throw maturity and reason out the window and act like a bunch of third graders at a birthday party (my apologies actual third-graders, who are supposed to act like third-graders).
Justice Roberts got it right when he said, “…the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally…” I’ll never forget when republican legislators wore yellow buttons saying, “I voted with the President,” to the State of the Union address. This was after Bush Senior’s triumph in Iraq—a war that so many Democrats were against. Yellow Buttons? Really? You had to wonder if they were not drunk—certainly on power, if not alcohol.
A closer look
Justice Roberts: “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum. 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.”
Having just returned from Nigeria I understand now more than ever the “requirements of protocol.” When we entered the city we were honored by the government. The media was there, pictures were taken…it was a big deal. And I was told exactly what to say and when to say it because that was their culture and protocol. By honoring that protocol, more people came to hear the gospel.
There is also a culture and protocol that says Justices remain stoic, unemotional and non-partisan at the State of the Union address. Can you imagine the Justices jumping up every five seconds whooping and hollering like the others gathered? Or maybe they should wear buttons saying, “I voted with the constitution.” How ridiculous would that have looked? And for that reason, it was audacious for the President to use that moment — not a press conference or a Sunday morning news program — but his State of the Union address to publicly undress the Supreme Court.
Well, not everyone took it sitting down. Justice Alito, whose family was humiliated during his confirmation process (remember his poor wife weeping after senators did everything they could to portray her distinguished husband as a bigot), was seen mouthing the words, “Not true, not true.”
Lastly, you cannot criticize the Supreme Court for doing their job just because you don’t like the outcome. The job of the Supreme Court is not to do what is popular or to do what they desire, but simply to look at US law and decide if it is constitutional or unconstitutional. Do they get it wrong? Sure. It is no easy job to try and figure what was going through Thomas Jefferson, John Adams or Thomas Paine’s head more than two centuries ago as they wrote the words — How they felt about campaign finance reform?
If the President doesn’t like their opinion, and the Congress so wildly, hysterically agrees with him, then introduce legislation to change it. In fact that is what President Obama suggested at the end of his remarks. A more mature response to their ruling would have been to accept it and then work to change the law or even the constitution if need be. But to publically rebuke the U.S. Supreme Court in that setting for doing their job was simply over the line.
Contrast the difference in maturity: the Supreme Court justices didn’t even defend themselves. It took Justice Roberts two months to say something, and even what he said was hypothetical in answer to a question from a student during a lecture. No Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, no one on one with Bill O’reilly—just a few comments to a student.
So why did he do it? Come on—everything in Washington is political. Everything is calculated. He sought to win political points with mainstream America by portraying himself as the hero and the Supreme Court as “opening the floodgates of corruption.” It was wrong, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for an apology.
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