Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he said he would not bring a political agenda to the high court, became the unexpected "star" of State of the Union night by playing the part of the sullen teenager.
When President Obama expressed the concern of tens of millions of Americans that the court’s 5-4 ruling in the case of Citizens United v. FEC had freed corporations to dominate our elections with unlimited special-interest spending, Alito grimaced and grumbled to himself. Then he clearly mouthed the words "not true."
The conservative judicial activist, who has used his position on the high court to advance precisely the sort of agenda he promised to avoid, got caught because the television cameras happened to focus on Alito at the moment when he was acting out.
Honest conservatives have defended Alito, as they did Congressman Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican who interrupted a presidential address last year with a shout of "you lie." Just as they prefer their congressmen noisy, they prefer their judges to be unabashed in their activism — on the bench and in public settings.
Win-at-any-cost conservatives — and the more delusional defenders of the notion that corporations are citizens — have tried to suggest either that Alito didn’t tip his hand as an activist or, even more comically, that he was right to object to the validity of Obama’s statement about how the court’s decision will warp our politics.
But what of those sincerely concerned and engaged Americans, no matter their ideology or partisanship, who are serious about the courts, the law and democracy? How should they respond to Alito’s activism?
It’s important to challenge Alito on this because his behavior was not merely inappropriate. His comment was, like his testimony at his confirmation hearing in 2006, deliberately dishonest.
Senator Russ Feingold, the Wisconsin Democrat who chairs the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has often stirred resentment among Democrats and liberals by voting for and defending conservative jurists.
But Feingold offered no defense of Alito’s State of the Union night hijinks.
Feingold, who has correctly described the decision of Alito and four other justices to strike down limits on corporate spending on elections "lawless" and "truly an outrageous act," criticized for failing to even attempt to maintain the facade of impartiality that has traditionally been expected of high court judges.
"That’s not very judicial of him," Feingold said with regard to Alito’s "not true" mumbling. "Apparently, he thinks he gets to make the law. He should maintain his judicial demeanor, and that was inappropriate."
But what of the argument that Alito was simply, if clumsily, correcting the record by challenging a "not true" remark on the president’s part?
Rob Weissman, the able new president of Public Citizen, is calling "Not True" Alito out.
Here’s Weissman’s wise take on the incident and the lawless justice:
Justice Alito mouthed those words during the State of the Union speech when President Obama challenged a Supreme Court ruling that he believes will allow corporations "to spend without limit in our elections."
Alito has since declined to explain himself, so we don’t know exactly what he was upset about. But last week’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is unambiguous. Wrong, but unambiguous…
Astoundingly, the court reversed a century of legal precedent and interpreted the First Amendment as giving corporations a right to spend as much money as they want supporting or opposing political candidates.
Alito’s denial notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has set the stage for a corporate takeover of our democracy.
The First Amendment guarantees fundamental speech rights of people. Real, live human beings. It was never intended to protect the speech rights of corporations.
That’s why Public Citizen has launched an unprecedented grassroots campaign for a constitutional amendment to restore the longstanding commonsense interpretation of the First Amendment.
More than 25,000 Americans have already signed on to Public Citizen’s campaign to overrule the court — with a Constitutional amendment — and defeat the corporate takeover of our democracy
To learn more about the campaign, and the what is true and not true about the court’s decision, visit the Public Citizen website.