During the State of the Union Address, President Obama criticized the Supreme Court's recent 5-4 decision in Citizen United. That case invalidated the restraints on corporate political spending commanded by McCain-Feingold legislation. The decision has led to harsh criticism among political and legal commentators.
President Obama had already criticized the ruling, but he used the platform of the SOTUA to reiterate his opposition. Obama said that the ruling would "open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections." President Obama's criticism is in-line with the arguments of many legal critics and with the position of the four liberal dissenting justices.
Alito Was Visibly Upset
Justice Alto winced when President Obama criticized the ruling. Some observers have said that he also mouthed the words "not true" in response to President Obama's critique. The rest of the justices were stone-faced, as usual, during the entire speech.
Presidents Have Criticized the Court Before
Coincidentally, during my Constitutional Law class earlier this week, we discussed political constraints on the Supreme Court -- including criticism of the Court by members of Congress and by the President. Compared with other historical moments, Obama's criticism was somewhat mild.
FDR probably offered the most caustic criticism of the Court and its rulings. Jefferson also harshly criticized the Court, but a lot of his criticism reflected his contempt for Chief Justice John Marshall. Lincoln famously criticized the Dred Scot decision, and President Jackson disagreed with the Court on the constitutionality of a federally chartered bank.