The Supreme Court and the State of the Union

Friday, January 27, 2012


In 2010 President Obama used the State of the Union address to call out the Supreme Court for its recent Citizens United decision.  It was awkward, to be sure, but was it unprecedented?  And what’s the tradition that has some of the justices sitting stoically through the State of the Union anyway?  Michael W. Giles, co-author of a new study of SCOTUS and the SOTU, tells Brooke how the high court came to be addressed by the president once a year.

Oddisee - All Along The River

Comments [4]


I must say that I am pleased to see so many other listeners commenting on what I think was the biggest "media" story in relation to Obama's SOTU comments on Citizens United; it was the fact that Obama DID substantially misstate the law, and instead of calling the President on that point, the press (including OTM, here) focused on the "decorum" issue. Focusing on the question of whether the President should or shouldn't be calling out Supreme Court Justices in attendance at the State of the Union only distracted from the more serious question as to whether the President substantially misstated the case. Had I been Alito, I am quite certain that I too would have mouthed, 'That's not true.' I also like to think that I would have silently walked out of the Chamber.)

Citizens United v. FEC is one of the most commonly misunderstood legal decisions in American history. To its own great shame, public radio has done little to clear up any of those misunderstandings, and in fact has done much to promote them. Read the comments pages. Post after post of listeners presuming that the Citizens United decision allowed corporations to donate to candidates; thinking that Super-PAC's were created by the Court decision; and completely unaware of the actual facts and circumstances of what happened in the underlying case and which statute was at issue. (It was 2 USC Sec. 441b.)

A little knowledge can certainly be a very dangerous thing, and public radio has consistently been supplying only a little knowledge on the subject of the Citizens United decision.

Feb. 04 2012 05:56 PM
Mark Richard from WOSU

Even Dahlia Lithwick, Salon's robo-pro-Democratic Canadian scold, conceded that Pres. Obama was dead wrong when he made his anti-'Citizens United' comment in his State of the Union address. It was, furthermore, by the past standards of OTM, an exercise in demagoguery in its anti-foreigner overtones. Nevertheless, the lamestream media, which believes that reality 'has a liberal bias', has chastely averted its eyes from this circumstance, and diverted its attention to Alito's calling out of the President.

What if Geo. Bush has misstated a Supreme Court case, such as the one involving Guantanamo detainees, in a State of the Union address, with, let us say, Stephen Breyer mouthing the word 'no' in the audience? The framing would have been a judge 'speaking the truth to power', and the framing would have been Breyer's courage. The mainstream media is absolutely not trustworthy on straight-up Republican vs. Democratic conflicts. This is all too clear from story selection (designed to fit an urban-bourgeois narrative) and vocabulary. I generally like NPR, but anyone relying on it as the only or even primary source of political news is left under-informed in a lot of areas.

Jan. 29 2012 04:46 PM

Justice Alito had a momentary reflex of a human reaction to an unfair falsehood about a case he heard in detail at the nation's highest court. Isn't this exactly the kind of "empathy" that the President said he wanted in a Justice?

Is that "breach of decorum" on the same scale as the President's politically motivated rebuke and the Democrat majority joining the imperiousness on cue by rising to their feet in annoyance of the beleaguered Justices who they all know cannot respond?
This expression of unsightly partisan frustration led by the President was performed by the same Democrats who just one year later were piously calling for civility when that mendacious ploy suited them.

Jan. 29 2012 10:06 AM
JayTeaNH from NH

I am listening now to the show, and I wonder if the fact that Obama was lying when he called out the Court on Citizens United. That case did NOTHING to the century-old law prohibiting any foreign money in political campaigns, either from individuals or corporations.

Which didn't prevent the Obama campaign from disabling standard security measures on its web site and accepting plenty of money from abroad. As I recall, two Palestinian brothers in Gaza gave over $30,000 that, once exposed, was theoretically returned. But I digress.

I await to hear the story with bated breath.

Jan. 29 2012 10:05 AM

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