As described in this blog on January 28th following President Obama’s state of the union address, the spectacle of a president deliberately and uncivilly criticizing the justices of the US Supreme Court who just days before had rendered a decision with which Mr. Obama disagreed, even as they sat politiely in front of him in the House chamber, was uncalled for and beneath the decorum which a president ought to practice. This display of presidential bullying was made worse when, at the president’s implied prodding, Democratic House and Senate members stood, encircling the seated justices, and applauded the president’s ill-conceived — and, incidentally, inaccurate – remarks concerning the Court’s recent campaign finance law opinion.
Now, in answer to a question posed to him by a student at the University of Alabama School of Law on March 9th following a speech he delivered at the school, Chief Justice John Roberts politely but pointedly responded to the awkward position in which he and his colleagues were placed during the state of the union by President Obama and members of the president’s party who were present.
The chief justice answered the student’s inquiry about the incident, first by indicating that criticism of the high Court’s decisions by the president or anyone else, is never out of place. In our society, as Mr. Roberts noted, people have a right to criticize judges the same as they do members of the other two branches of government.
However, and as the chief justice also stated quite clearly, criticizing the Court in that forum and in that manner raises serious questions about whether it makes sense for the justices to even bother attending such speeches in the future. He summarized the situation as “troubling.” He also accurately described modern states of the union speeches as nothing more than “political pep rall[ies].”
The White House, preferring consistency to accuracy, once again, shortly after the chief justice’s March 9th remarks, continued to mischaracterize the Supreme Court’s decision that was the subject of the president’s lashing out at the Court on January 28th.
So far in this match between the Court and the White House, it’s “Advantage, Supreme Court.”