Gavel Grab

Read Justice Alito's Lips?


When President Obama firmly criticized in his State of the Union speech last week’s campaign finance decision by the Supreme Court, he delivered it to the faces of six justices in the audience. And he got a swift reaction from one of them, Justice Samuel Alito Jr., if lip-readers in the press gallery and elsewhere were accurate.

Obama said about the Citizens United decision, “With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.”

According to a New York Times blog post, “Justice Alito shook his head as if to rebut the president’s characterization” and “seemed to mouth the words ‘not true.'” A lip-reader for The Washington Post offered a similar impression, reporting that Justice Alito “appeared to say” the words, “not true, not true.”

Obama’s criticism of the court “was beyond unusual; it was almost unprecedented,” the Blog of Legal Times wrote after doing some archival digging.

Linda Greenhouse opined in the Times blog that Obama had been “imprecise” in his description of the court reversing a century of law, but some others zeroed in on his remark about foreign corporations. Bradley A. Smith, in National Review Online, cited federal law barring donations to federal candidates by foreign corporations. But according to Kenneth P. Vogel in Politico, a number of experts read last week’s ruling to allow U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies to air ads supporting or opposing candidates. In Huffington Post, Doug Kendall argued that Obama was right.

If you want to see it, the “read-his-lips” moment is available on YouTube, and a clip was sent out by the liberal People for the American Way. On the opposite side of the political spectrum, National Review Online posted video of the moment on its Web site.

If you’re still hungry for commentary and analysis of Citizens United, you might check out George Will in the Washington Post,  George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times, Norman Ornstein from American Enterprise Institute or Stephen R. Weissman in the Los Angeles Times.

An Associated Press article reports that a conservative legal organization, the James Madison Center for Free Speech, asked the Federal Election Commission to throw out its own rules limiting corporate spending on politics, in the wake of Citizens United. Meanwhile Ciara Torres-Spelliscy at the Brennan Center for Justice, a partner of Justice at Stake, offered a report on legislation to require shareholder approval for corporate political spending.

To learn more about the Citizens United decision, read Gavel Grab and the latest press releases from Justice at Stake.

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  1. […] decide. Gavel Grab earlier chronicled the president’s criticism of the court’s Citizens United decision, […]

  2. […] Post about Obama’s criticism of the ruling and Justice Samuel Alito’s reaction. (See Gavel Grab.) No comments  Email This […]

  3. […] foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.” Justice Alito was captured on camera shaking his head, apparently mouthing the words “not true, not […]

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