White House Vs. Supreme Court: It's Getting Ridiculous

AP

John Roberts
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts address students at the University of Alabama Law School in Tuscaloosa, Ala., March 9, 2010.
AP
For the life of me, I just don't get why the White House continues to try to pick a fight with the Supreme Court. I've suggested before that perhaps it's a sign President Obama intends to tap an outsider when John Paul Stevens retires, so he can beat the drum that the Court is out of touch with everyday Americans.

But after Chief Justice John Roberts made some entirely reasonable remarks yesterday -- and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs just had to respond -- it's now getting ridiculous.

Whether the White House has a short-term or long-term strategy or no strategy at all, it's flat-out absurd and ill-advised for the administration to think it should always have the last word. It's like my 6-year-old: "I don't LIKE your idea. I like MY idea."

It wasn't enough that Mr. Obama, for the first time in modern history, took a direct shot at the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address, when he slammed the justices for their recent campaign finance reform decision. Six of them looked on -- including the author of the opinion, key swing vote Anthony Kennedy -- while Democrats jumped up to whoop and holler.

All that, of course, was too much for Justice Samuel Alito, who shook his head and silently mouthed, "not true."

The next day, the White House just couldn't let it rest. It again had to have the last word. It put out a "fact sheet," trying to prove it was Mr. Obama -- not Justice Alito -- who was right.

Now the Chief Justice, speaking yesterday at the University of Alabama Law School, has weighed in. Responding to a question from a clearly insightful Alabama law student, Roberts said he thought the whole scene was "very troubling."

"To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I'm not sure why we're there," Roberts said.

He didn't slam Mr. Obama for singling out the Court, as some have done. He said people have a right to criticize the Court if they disagree with a decision.

"I have no problems with that," Roberts said. "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 the requirements of protocol - has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling."

And he's right. The justices have to sit there with their hands in their laps and their faces blank. They can't be seen as taking sides -- they may have to decide some of these issues some day. Justice Scalia has said they look like bumps on a log. And that's why some justices won't go to the State of the Union address -- and why none of them probably ever will again after this year's dressing down from the president.

But once again, the White House has to try to get the last word. Last night, Gibbs struck back at Roberts.

"What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections - drowning out the voices of average Americans," Gibbs said. "The president has long been committed to reducing the undue influence of special interests and their lobbyists over government. That is why he spoke out to condemn the decision and is working with Congress on a legislative response."

Maybe it's because he's an Auburn guy and the Chief Justice was talking to law students at the University of Alabama (or, as we like to say, "the University"), but Gibbs should have let this go.

This administration is going to have to be dealing with this Supreme Court for at least three more years, if not more. Its lawyers are going to have to appear before these justices to defend presidential initiatives or federal laws in case after case, big and small.

I'm not suggesting they won't get a fair shake simply because the White House is trying to stick it to the conservative justices. George Bush repeatedly got slapped down by this Court, even though he never lashed out at the justices.

But at some point -- and I'd say that point is now -- the Obama Administration is working against its interests.

They'd do well to remember that on a lot of the issues they care about, the Supreme Court gets to decide. No matter how much they stomp their feet and shout, "I don't LIKE your idea; I like MY idea," the Supreme Court is going to get the last word.

  • Jan Crawford On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.

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