SCOTUS Chief grumbles
Chief justice John Roberts is obviously not happy about the SCOTUS being the focus of an attack by the President during the State of the Union address recently and said so in answer to a question after a lecture at the University of Alabama law school:
Responding to a University of Alabama law student’s question, Roberts said anyone was free to criticize the court, and some have an obligation to do so because of their positions.
“So I have no problems with that,” he said. “On the other hand, there is the issue of the setting, the circumstances and the decorum.
“The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the court — according the requirements of protocol — has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”
Breaking from tradition, Obama criticized the court’s decision that allows corporations and unions to freely spend money to run political ads for or against specific candidates.
The whole point, of course, is the term “breaking from tradition”. What Roberts objects too isn’t the criticism, it’s the manner and place in which the criticism was leveled. I think it is a fair point.
And it is interesting to me that the one who got heat from the press was Justice Alito for mouthing the words “not true” – not Barack Obama for “breaking from tradition”.
My guess is this year’s SOTU may be the last one for some of the justices, at least for the near future:
“I’m not sure why we’re there,” said Roberts, a Republican nominee who joined the court in 2005.
Justice Antonin Scalia once said he no longer goes to the annual speech because the justices “sit there like bumps on a log” in an otherwise highly partisan atmosphere. Six of the nine justices attended Obama’s address.
I’d bet it may be 3 of 9 next year. The Supreme Court isn’t a subordinate branch of government. It is a co-equal branch. I can imagine the outcry from the administration if the court criticized the administration and its policies from the bench. That sort of criticism is traditionally avoided. It also points out that Obama’s confrontational attitude isn’t only reserved for the GOP. And for a post-partisan president who claims to want to change the way business is done in Washington, this isn’t the way to do that.
That said, I wouldn’t want to be representing the administration in the SCOTUS anytime soon on a controversial issue that the court must hear. I would imagine that some on the court will come as close as tradition allows to making the point that two can play this game. Of course the difference will be it won’t be on national TV in prime time.
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