Alito’s Reaction: Much Ado About Nodding
There’s only been a few hours since the end of the President’s State of the Union and already it’s clear what will be heading up the news cycle tomorrow: Justice Alito’s Joe Wilson moment.
In case you missed it, which wasn’t hard since it was a few milliseconds of reaction, Justice Sam Alito shook his head and said “not true” after President Obama criticized the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizen’s United.
It’s easy to get pulled along in the tide of outrage. The Supreme Court after all, is at least supposed to pretend to be neutral arbiters. AMERICAblog wrote it. Glenn Greenwald immediately twittered it. Huffington Post re-posted it. Talking Points Memo grabbed the vid.
. . . Justice Alito shook his head as if to rebut the president’s characterization of the Citizens United decision, and seemed to mouth the words “not true.” Indeed, Mr. Obama’s description of the holding of the case was imprecise. He said the court had “reversed a century of law.”
The law that Congress enacted in the populist days of the early 20th century prohibited direct corporate contributions to political campaigns. That law was not at issue in the Citizens United case, and is still on the books. Rather, the court struck down a more complicated statute that barred corporations and unions from spending money directly from their treasuries — as opposed to their political action committees — on television advertising to urge a vote for or against a federal candidate in the period immediately before the election. It is true, though, that the majority wrote so broadly about corporate free speech rights as to call into question other limitations as well — although not necessarily the existing ban on direct contributions.
Watching the video, it’s hard not to agree that Alito’s nodding was most likely in reaction to Obama’s inaccurate characterization. But, as Greenhouse herself states at the end of the article, this is not an explanation that lends itself to sound-bite. If I wake up tomorrow morning and Justice Sam Alito is the new Joe Wilson, I won’t be one bit surprised.