President Obama’s State of the Union Address on January 27 featured a rare confrontation between two branches of American government.
The president called out the Supreme Court for their recent decision in the case of Citizens United vs. FEC, which overturned two precedents and allowed corporate financing in political campaigns.
In a detour from his prepared speech, the president said, “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.”
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities,” he continued. “They should be decided by the American people. And I urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems.”
The president’s challenge—a rare occurrence in the history of the yearly presidential address—was met by an even more atypical reaction. While most of the phalanx of justices appeared unmoved by the president’s remarks, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. appeared to have a pained expression and muttered the words, “That’s not true.”
Obama’s words and Alito’s response stirred up a flurry of chatter on the Internet and on television networks with observers taking sides on whose actions were more inappropriate.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have already begun to seek ways around the Supreme Court ruling. The most visible is the Fair Elections Now Act, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.).
The bill would support small individual campaign contributions with public financing to counteract the influence of large single donors. To qualify, candidates would have to raise contributions from a large number of individuals in the area in which they are running.
This approach would free incumbent candidates “from the incessant preoccupation with raising money, and [allow] them more time to carry out their public responsibilities,” according to the House version of the bill.