The stupid meme of the day is that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was “rude” to Obama during the State of the Union address because Alito grimaced and mouthed the words “not true” when Obama stoked the crowd with a lie about a recent Supreme Court decision:
- The AP headlines its article Alito disparages Obama’s Supreme Court criticism, which is as clear a case of getting something ass backwards as there ever were.
- Glenn Greenwald, the self-appointed guardian of free speech (with which he agrees)[see update below], proclaims that Alito’s conduct “was a serious and substantive breach of protocol that reflects very poorly on Alito and only further undermines the credibility of the Court.”
- Professor Adam Winkler of UCLA Law writes at HuffPo that Alito was Rude (but Right).
Interesting spin considering that it was Obama who by almost all accounts was wrong in his criticism and who intentionally sought to intimidate the Justices.
Obama embarrassed himself in ways he is incapable of appreciating from atop his mountain hideout. Having Chuck Schumer lean forward towards the Justices wildly clapping his hands at the attack on the Court was abhorrent.
The visual of the Justices sitting as the crowd (dare I say “mob”) of Democrats around them jumped to their feet in exultation of Obama’s prevarication was a low point in this already lowly presidency.
Alito was correct to react to Obama’s attack, if for nothing else than to preserve that separation of powers for which Obama claims to have “all due respect.”
Alito’s reaction, though, was far too reserved. Alito should have risen to his feet and walked out on His Arrogancy.
Which is exactly what millions of disgusted voters did in Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Update: I like this post by Paul Mirengoff at Power Line Blog, A sound bite too far:
Last night, Justice Alito reportedly responded to Obama’s sound bite by quietly saying something like “that’s not true.” Alito was right at least two levels. First, as noted above and as Linda Greenhouse acknowledges, Citizens United did not disturb any principles that date back 100 years.
Second, as Shannen Coffin points out, the decision in Citizens United is quite clear that it does not address whether the government can regulate improper foreign influence over our electoral process. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated: “We need not reach the question whether the Government has a compelling interest in preventing foreign individuals or associations from influencing our Nation’s political process.”
Presidents should feel free to criticize important Supreme Court decisions with which they disagree. It’s bad form, however, to do so at an event where Justices are in attendance by invitation. And it is unconscionable to do so by blatantly misrepresenting what the Court has said.
It was more than bad form. It was a deliberate attempt by Obama to intimidate the Court. A coach yells at the referee not out of an expectation that the completed call will be changed, but in the hope of influencing the next call.
It also was a cowardly act, because Obama knew that the Justices would be constrained in responding, both then and later. Indeed, a mere grimace and alleged mouthing of a few words has brought the legal apparatchiks down on Alito’s head.
Update No. 2: In comments to this post, Glenn Greenwald takes issue with my use of the words “with which he agrees.” To the extent those words are construed as a sweeping interpretation of Greenwald’s career, then the words did not convey properly that I was focusing on Greenwald’s position as to the Alito reaction (other commenters understood this distinction).
Greenwald’s post, to which I linked, is completely ideological in expecting that Alito should have sat like a stone statue while Obama politicized the Court ruling in a situation meant to embarrass and humiliate the majority of the Court before almost the entirety of the nation’s political leadership and tens of millions of Americans who otherwise would know nothing about the Court ruling at issue. Yet Greenwald spends much of his post defending Obama’s conduct and belittling criticism of Obama. Greenwald’s own post leads to the reasonable conclusion that whatever he thought of the underlying Court ruling giving rise to this dispute, Greenwald’s antipathy towards Alito’s judicial philosophy and rulings colored Greenwald’s view of this event. That’s what I meant by “with which he agrees” and I stand by it.
Providing he stayed within the bounds of the judicial cannons of ethics (which he clearly did), Alito had every bit as much right to express his displeasure with Obama’s confrontational conduct as did anyone else, and it did not bring shame on the Court or lessen the stature of the Court.
And as to Greenwald’s point, in his post, that Justices and the Joint Chiefs of Staff “never applaud or otherwise express any reaction at a State of the Union address,” Greenwald is in error, see Joe My God.