Regarding Obama v. SCOTUS majority in Citizens United, which continues to be a story at least in Washington: Count me among those who believe that a president may criticize an opinion by the Court. As Lincoln once said (though before he became president) a Supreme court decision is not a “thus sayeth the Lord.” Even so, there are better and worse ways for a president to take on a particular ruling, and Obama’s was, to say the least, provocative.
The Justices sat mere feet from him in the same (big) room, and all around sat members of Congress. Obama gave his audience an imprecise (to be charitable) treatment of the decision (which probably explains Justice Samuel Alito’s “not true” or “that’s not true” that he uttered, silently). Obama criticized the Court for having facilitated nothing less than the bankrolling of elections by moneyed special interests. Obama ended by imploring the legislative department in whose building he stood to pass a bill that would “correct some of the problems” the Court had created. Predictably, this call to action against the Citizens United majority served as an applause line for those many members who oppose the decision. And so probably a majority of the members rose to their feet, clapping as big grins spread over their faces, another dollop of farce thus lent to an annual occasion that seldom lacks for it.
Obama also used his radio address last Saturday to criticize Citizens United. Has Obama decided to play the populist by taking on the terrible majority that decided Citizens United (correctly, in my view)? Maybe he figures it’s smart politics in a mid-term election year that has begun badly for his party, not to mention his presidency. And he may be expecting that the much-rumored-to-retire Justice John Paul Stevens (who wrote the main dissent in the case) will leave the Court at the end of the term, in July. If he does leave, of course, Obama will get to name his successor—and also get to strike his populist theme in discussing the composition of the High Court. Citizens United thus may continue to be a story, though it is unclear to me, and should be of concern to Obama’s political advisors, how a decision vindicating the constitutional guarantee of free speech should prove a loser in the court of public opinion.