The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the rest of all the right thinking (which is to say left doing) world, is in high dudgeon. They are inflamed over the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down major portions of the McCain-Feingold Act in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case.
President Obama took the unprecedented step of confronting the Supreme Court about this ruling during his State of the Union Address last week. The President’s characterization of the Court’s ruling was way off base.
Justice Alito famously mouthed the words: “Simply not true.” Justice Alito was right. He was right on two grounds: First, Mr. Obama had wrongly stated that the court would now allow corporations to contribute to federal campaigns. They can’t. Second, Mr. Obama was wrong to tongue-lash the members of the Supreme Court while they sat before him, robed and silent.
The Post’s columnist E.J. Dionne thinks conservatives who criticize Mr. Obama’s incivility are being hypocrites. Mr. Dionne points to Ronald Reagan’s criticism of Roe v. Wade in a 1983 article in the Human Life Review. “I know of no one on the right who protested when President Ronald Reagan…took on the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision of ten years earlier.”
But that’s exactly the point, Mr. Dionne. While Reagan defended the right to life of unborn children, not once, but repeatedly in his State of the Union Addresses, he never went so far as to confront the co-equal branch of the government on this high ceremonial occasion. Reagan knew that the Justices had no opportunity to respond in such a forum. He knew it was unfair to criticize them when they were his invited guests. President Obama’s ill-informed assault is risking the very civility he is always telling us he wants.
Even Lincoln, when he was sworn in by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney for his first term, took pains in his Inaugural Address to describe the proper role of the courts in respectful terms. Lincoln called the Supreme Court “that estimable tribunal” on that occasion. Everyone knew what Lincoln thought of Taney’s infamous Dred Scott decision. In that dreadful ruling, Taney had written that “the black man has no rights that the white man is bound to respect.” Lincoln had publicly denounced the Dred Scott ruling for four years.