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Justice Roberts on The State of The Union

Seen here in this MSNBC article, Justice Roberts discusses the annual State of the Union address and the Supreme Court’s role in attending. He finds that it has become a “political pep rally” and does not see the point of Supreme Court justices attending the speech. What really upset him was that President Obama took out some of his anger with the Citizens United case on the justices in attendance.

Justice Scalia has gone so far as to not even show up anymore. He says that the justices sit there like “bumps on a log.” This is because the justices are supposed to be non-partisan and find it difficult to mute their feelings during the speech. The highly partisan event places them in the uncomfortable position of having to pretend to be non-partisan when they in fact have feelings on the issues being presented. Justice Alito recently dealt with this issue firsthand. While President Obama chided the Citizens United decision, Justice Alito shook his head and mouthed the words “not true”. This was replayed multiple times the next day in the media. It seems the justices feel it is easier to not show up at all then to show up and be stone-faced.

  1. Scott Blake
    March 11, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I think Obama’s comments at the Court were inappropriate. I understand that Presidents have called out the Court in the past (Reagan and FDR for example), but it puts the Court in a terribly awkward position. They have to sit there, like “bumps on a log,” while the Senate and House stand behind them clapping and jeering them. I question Obama’s choice of words. He could have made his point (needing to write new campaign reform legislation), without expressing his personal view that the Court was wrong.

    More than anything, the Court has begun to look like a partisan branch of government. The conservative mantra of Textualism and judicial restraint are not represented in the Court’s recent decisions or actions.

    Turing to the Court’s actions, Chief Justice Roberts’ recently began to criticize Obama in public. In Roberts’ mind, he probably thinks he is defending the integrity and power of the Court. However, in reality his actions make the Court look more partisan and political, thereby hurting its credibility. The wiser thing to have done is say nothing, and hope Obama’s “call out” is forgotten. Instead, the event has been resurrected and again occupies news headlines. And worse, Roberts is reminding the public of its controversial Citizens United decision again, a decision most Americans disagreed with and led to the belief that corporate money has even somehow made its way into the Supreme Court’s chambers.

    In combination with Roberts’ public comments, the Court is increasingly deciding cases that reverse legislative decisions and Court precedent in the name of individual rights. I think this is the wrong message a conservative Court wants to send to the public. The Citizens United and the future McDonald v. Chicago (gun ban case) both reverse legislative decisions. Both the McCain-Feingold Act and any state or city gun bans are the result of political compromise, legislative decisions, and the democratic process. And the Roberts Court, from its “ivory tower”, is striking down these laws at a regular rate.

    A conservative Court should limit its decisions to protecting individual rights, protecting states’ rights, and giving deference to the political process. Remember the Court can decide what cases it takes. The wiser choice would have been not to take the Citizens United case at all; however, after Heller the McDonald case is such a large national issue, I don’t know if the Court could, or should, avoid it. The Roberts Courts willingness to take on these cases is making the Court look like a group of nine individuals who impose their will on America, using whatever judicial interpretation that allows them to get to the result they want. This brands the Court as a political branch and undermines its credibility. More so, the Courts actions will likely further polarize the Court and encourage Presidents to appoint more extreme justices (left or right). The Court doesn’t need extremes; what it needs is a Justice like O’Connor, who was moderate, protected individual rights when needed, stood for states’ rights, and deferred to the legislative process.

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