WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito didn't like what he was
hearing from President Barack Obama.
The president had taken the unusual step of scolding the high court in his
State of the Union address last night. "With all due deference to the separation
of powers," Obama said in reference to Citizens United
v. FEC, the Court last week "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."
Alito made a dismissive face, shook his head repeatedly and appeared to mouth
the words "not true" or possibly "simply not true."
A reliable conservative appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican
President George W. Bush, Alito was in the majority in the 5-4 ruling. Senate
Democratic leaders sitting immediately behind Alito and other members of the
high court rose and clapped loudly in their direction, with Sen. Chuck Schumer,
D-N.Y., leaning slightly forward with the most enthusiastic applause.
The Court did upend a 100-year trend that had imposed greater limitations on
corporate political activity. Specifically, the majority said corporations and
unions could spend independently and freely from their treasuries to run
political ads for or against specific candidates. Obama said corporations could
now "spend without limit in our elections." However, corporations and unions are
still prohibited from contributing directly to politicians.
In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the Court majority "would
appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by
foreigners as to individual Americans."
Appearing in an interview this morning on ABC's "Good Morning America," Vice
President Joe Biden was asked whether it was appropriate for Obama to
second-guess the Court's decision.
"The president didn't question the integrity of the Court. He questioned the
judgment of it," Biden said. "A lot of these multinational corporations are
owned as much by foreign interests as they are by domestic interests."
"I think it's an outrageous decision," the vice president added. "Not
outrageous in the fact that these guys are bad guys, but outrageous in the way
you read the Constitution." Biden called the ruling removing restrictions on
spending by corporations and unions "the last thing we need" in American
politics. These entities still are prohibited by law from making donations
directly to candidates.
Biden said he thought it wrong that a major multinational company can now
"with excessive amounts of money be able to influence the outcome of elections,"
saying that critical U.S. policymaking on issues like energy independence could
be affected by the spending.
"I think it was dead wrong and we have to correct it," said Biden, inviting
Congress to pass legislation negating the decision.