Monday, March 15, 2010

Chief Justice Roberts: SOTU Just a "Political Pep Rally"

I was out of town last week and missed this.

Chief Justice Fires Back for State of the Union Snub:

Simmering tension between the White House and U.S. Supreme Court spilled into public this week when Chief Justice John Roberts labeled the political atmosphere at the State of the Union address "very troubling."

With six members of the court a few feet away in the audience, President Obama used the occasion to criticize the conservative majority's ruling in a campaign finance case.

Roberts on Tuesday told students at the University of Alabama that such partisanship at the annual address in Congress leaves him questioning whether the justices should continue to attend, as most do, in accord with tradition.

"It does cause me to think whether or not it makes sense for us to be there," Roberts said. "To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there."

Er, "has degenerated?" I'd say the State of the Union has been nothing more than a "political pep rally" for the past 30 years, maybe longer. But more importantly you are "there" because you were invited and agreed to attend. There is nothing in the Constitution requiring their attendance. Roberts goes on to note:
"Some people, I think, have an obligation to criticize what we do, given their office, if they think we've done something [wrong]," he said in response to a student's question. "So I have no problems with that. 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 to the requirements of protocol, has to sit there, expressionless, I think is very troubling."
Don't you love the phrase "literally surrounding the Supreme Court," as if it were some sort of coupe de grace engineered by Obama and the Congress to take out the court itself? It's not like Obama shouted from the podium "bring it!" or challenged them to a duel. Talk about "troubling."

Nevertheless, Roberts' salvo has led many in the media: to declare this a "battle raging on" between Obama and Roberts, to harken back to Roosevelt's attempt to pack the Court in the 1930's, and to bloviate about [gasp] the court not showing up at next year's SOTU.

Meanwhile, there have already been years when the Court dissed the president completely. They skipped en banc Clinton's farewell SOTU in 2000, and blew off Reagan's 1986 post-Challenger address. The notion that it would be "new" or "show Obama a lesson" is laughable.

Me thinks this is much to do about nothing, ultimately. If you want to read about the Court and its importance, check out Jeff Toobin's excellent "After Stevens" in the latest New Yorker about the pending retirement of Justice Stevens, or Linda Greenhouse's analysis in the NYT of Justice Thomas and the 8th amendment. Much more important, those.

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