Justice Alito Shown Shaking His Head and Mouthing “Not True” in Response to State of the Union Address

In a breach of protocol, Associate Justice Sam Alito was filmed during the State of the Union address last night shaking his head and mouthing “not true” in response to the President’s criticism of the Citizens United ruling on corporate campaign finance limits. Ironically, Rep. Joe Wilson promised to restrain himself during this speech and not scream “you lie” again during the President’s speech. For a justice, this breach (shown below) is no less remarkable. It is, in a word, injudicious.

Justices are expected not to express support or opposition to a president during the State of the Union — symbolizing the neutrality of the Court. This demonstration of Alito’s views undermines that principle and makes the Court look partisan and rather petty. Whether or not Obama overstated the holding is completely immaterial — just as immaterial as what Obama was referencing when Wilson screamed “You Lie!’

Justice are expected to speak through their opinions alone. Indeed, the relatively recent trend of justices speaking at conferences and associational meetings have troubled many of us. I have long favored the prior view that justices rarely speak in public — largely confined to graduations, funerals and the like. While Alito clearly experienced an uncontrolled moment, justices are expected to control themselves and act judiciously — particularly at major events like a State of the Union.

Alito should apologize to the President and to Congress (he and his colleagues are guests of the United States Congress) for the incident. Notably, if a president (or any citizen) goes to a court of law and mouths objections, they risk a contempt warning or sanction from the judge. No one requires a justice to come to the State of the Union. The price of this particular trick is to remain stoic and neutral. As with Wilson, there is limited audience participation. This is not Oprah, it is the State of the Union. When it comes to the justices, they should ideally not even applaud let alone express their views. They are present to show the unity of the tripartite system, but also to reaffirm the strict neutrality and apolitical role of the Court.

For commentary on the incident, click here (Glenn Greenwald) and here (Huff) and here (Politico) and here.

178 thoughts on “Justice Alito Shown Shaking His Head and Mouthing “Not True” in Response to State of the Union Address”

  1. From Bradley Smith at NRO’s the Corner:

    President Wrong on Citizens United Case [Bradley A. Smith]

    Tonight the president engaged in demogoguery of the worst kind, when he claimed that last week’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC, “open[ed] the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”

    The president’s statement is false.

    The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making “a contribution or donation of money or ather thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election” under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any “expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication.”

    This is either blithering ignorance of the law or demagoguery of the worst kind.

    “”The President’s swipe at the Supreme Court was a breach of decorum, and represents the worst of Washington politics — scapegoating ‘special interest’ bogeymen for all that ails Washington in an attempt to silence the diverse range of speakers in our democracy,”
    — Bradley A. Smith is Josiah H. Blackmore II/Shirley M. Nault Designated Professor of Law at Capital University Law School

  2. McCain changed after he picked Palin. The old maverick McCain disappeared.

  3. AY
    “Jack man, come on.
    Who’s Jack?
    ” I did not vote for him and until your clown president got the side show going I would have voted for McCain.”
    “My clown president”? What the hell are you talking about?

    “Edwards was my first choice, though.”
    Figures. Talk about clowns–and a liar and cheater, too.(on his cancer stricken wife, no less) What a scumbag.

  4. Waynester,

    Jack man, come on. You can certainly do better than this? Yes! I have seen duh better side. I think that (your words) PresBo’s SOU address can state anything he wants. I did not vote for him and until your clown president got the side show going I would have voted for McCain.

    Edwards was my first choice, though. Nader is better than the choice of the two.


    Where did you go? You get a real good dressing down by someone that ate your lunch, like a superior officer and you disappear. Why? Surely your meta is better than that.

  5. I find it interesting that Mr. Turley thinks its a breach of protocol for Alito to do what he did but finds no breach of decorum by PresBo calling the court out in a SOTU speeech. Kinda lets us all have an idea of just how fair and objective Mr. Turley really is, doesn’t it?

  6. Justice Samuel Alito takes off his mask: Where is the restrained conservative that was advertised?
    By Tom Moran/ The Star-Ledger
    January 31, 2010, 5:44AM

    Who was that sourpuss impersonating Associate Justice Samuel Alito during President Obama’s speech Wednesday night?

    It could not have been the dignified federal judge from New Jersey, the one who was so gentle, so polite and so dispassionate during his confirmation hearings four years ago. This look-alike in the black robe seemed nasty and disrespectful


  7. I’m really happy for you Obama and I’mma letchu finish, but SCOTUS had one of the best opinions of ALL TIME this year! Of ALL TIME!

  8. The 60s a time in our lives when people came out to show what was wrong and many were beaten and many lost their lives in that fight.

    When music was of truth and protest.What an unforgetable time for those of us who saw that period up close and personal.

  9. I will have more to say on this later (when I have more time), but the short version I’m in the Mike A. Camp. A corporation is a fiction that exists only as a creature of law and should never have rights approaching personhood. It makes as much sense as giving toasters the right to vote. I would like to ask mespo to consider that over broad rulings often lead to abusive laws because of the lobby system. Do you really trust Congress to anything that’s not corporate approved at this point? Much less actually write a law? Good law is succinct and clear. This case is neither. It’s a handoff of a ticking time bomb to the legislature who are graft bound to screw the citizens in favor of their corporatist masters. All Citizens United revealed to me is that all three branches are solidly on the take.

    This case is the ticket that sold the last of America as “We the People”.

    This is fascism plain and simple.

    It’s all downhill from here.

    As always, my loyalty is to the Constitution. This cannot be said of the Federal government as demonstrated by the actions of all three corrupt branches.

    Right now I feel I am a man without a country, betrayed by the government. Our rights sold out from under us by those sworn to protect them. The American Dream sacrificed on the altar of greed.

    Well, fuck them very much inside the Beltway. The graft ridden pols of both “sides” have sown the wind. The karma is theirs to reap.

    I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way.

    Our Chinese Overlords may indeed be greeted as liberators.

    (See recent events in Sino-American relations vis a vis Taiwan if you think that scenario outlandish.)

    But our current Overlords need to have the corporatist shit kicked out of them. There is no question about that. If Jefferson and Adams were alive today, they’d be setting fire to Washington. I’m becoming less and less picky about the method of the removal of the entrenched venal plutocrats too although I prefer reform and criminal trials to remedy our broken Federal government. Heads on a stick would work too. And probably provide a much needed national catharsis. So I’m going to put on the popcorn and enjoy the coming spectacle – the savage panorama of the end of America.

    All journeys are made of single steps. Even journey’s into Hell. Citizens United is the PNR, the Rubicon, the Waterloo of republican representative democracy. Were I still in practice, I would not be after Citizens United. I didn’t swear to protect “We the Corporate”. But then again, it’s readily apparent that I take my duty to protect the Constitution more seriously than any of you pricks in Washington (Mr. Kucinich aside).

    This is what Citizens United is . . .


  10. Bdaman,

    Come on take me on again. You are too rude. My Dad’s side is Jewish, so whats you beef with that?

    What Bra, me make Beef, no bruddah you gots it wrong. Howlee make beef bra, Ka maina right here bra. Meet me at Punch Bowl bra, I show you beef.

  11. Former Federal LEO “Lottakatz, Do you ever hear from Jill via e-mail, etc.?”

    —No. Unless the name is a link (blue) I have no idea how to contact anyone on this list.

  12. You hit the nail on the head Byron.

    I tell you what you can say what you want about Glen Beck but if you have not seen the documentary Live Free or Die you don’t know what your missing. Here’s part one of six.

  13. AY:

    a good many prominent Americans in the early 30’s sided with both Hitler and Stalin. A good many being on the “left”. Most of the intellectuals were certainly left of center at that time and used to make excuses or ignore what was happening in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

    I wouldn’t be so smug about Bush’s grandfather being in bed with the Nazi’s there is plenty of that to go around (and it looks like W learned by example in his dealings with the Saudi’s). Joe Kennedy was an avid Hitler lover for example. I think if I remember correctly FDR had to haul him in because of it. And ole Joe set up the SEC, follow the dots on that one.

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