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“With all due deference,” Obama Questions Judicial Authority

January 29, 2010

President Obama breached protocol when he denounced the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.  “With all due deference to separation of powers,” President Obama began, you robes are completely wrong. In more detail, Obama’s Wednesday evening State of the Union remarks are as follows:

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. 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 I’d urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to correct some of these problems.

Six justices attended the State of the Union address. When Obama warned the audience about the potential impact of foreign corporations now financing American campaigns, Justice Alito visibly mouthed “not true”. Editorials have taken Alito to task for responding to Obama’s remark rather than sitting straight-faced. However, Obama crossed the line on exercising executive authority when he called out the Citizen’s United decision, and his remarks were not only quite surprising but factually inaccurate  – blaming Alito is clearly an attempt to cover Obama’s mistake.

The impropriety of such a remark shocked scholars and journalists on the left and the right. Not since FDR’s Supreme Court insults has a President challenged judicial authority so publicly. Obama crossed the line in regards to separation of powers, but the most disappointing part of this judicial challenge is that Obama’s charge was inaccurate. First of all, Citizen’s United did not touch or change the early 20th century campaign law that Citizen’s United opponents continuously cite as the basis for their claim that the decision “reversed a century of law”. Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor and rebutted Obama’s claim that the Supreme Court decision addressed foreign corporations impacting American elections. Federal law and Federal Elections Commission rules regarding foreign financing were left untouched by the Citizen’s United decision.

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