Everyone knows by now that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wasn’t too pleased about President Barack Obama’s remarks in the State of the Union speech regarding last week’s campaign finance ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. He seemed to mouth something like “that’s not true” as the president spoke. Not exactly “you lie!,” but perhaps a more polite version. So what exactly did Alito take offense to?
Here’s what Obama said:
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.
According to the TV footage, Alito starting shaking his head after the “open the floodgates” remark but your blogger would like to speculate that it was the “century of law” comment that really got him riled. That’s because the oldest case that the court specifically overruled in Citizens United was Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which was decided in 1990. So, while the court was certainly bucking the trend towards regulating corporate spending in elections, it was not technically reversing a “century of law” in the legal sense (see Politifact for more on the way Democrats have sought to characterize the decision). This type of thing annoys justices, apparently. Whether or not Alito should have kept his thoughts to himself is another question.