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Friday, March 12, 2010

The Roberts Court is Out of Touch With the American People

Earlier this week, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. told law students in Alabama that Obama's criticism of the court during the State of the Union address was "very troubling." Roberts’ criticism of President Obama’s State of the Union speech shows just how out of touch the conservative majority on the Court has become. In his annual speech before Congress, the President attacked the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in which a narrow 5-4 majority radically transformed campaign finance laws. The ruling grants corporations the ability to spend unlimited amounts to influence the outcome of elections. Troubling, indeed.

Roberts was upset that the Justices had to “sit there expressionless” while the “members of [the elected legislature were] standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering.” Justice Alito’s furtive “not true” comment aside, perhaps the Chief Justice felt so disturbed because the court rarely has to confront the ire of those its decisions affect.

But Citizens United has served as a rallying cry. As Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted in a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, people are “freaking out” because the Court’s conservative 5-4 majority is transforming the legal framework in America to further a pro-business agenda. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that 80% of Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. At a time when average Americans are struggling to survive economically, opening the floodgates to corporate campaign expenditures smacks of insensitivity and ignorance to the plight of ordinary people.

We applaud the President for reprimanding the court and giving voice to the frustration felt by so many Americans in the wake of Citizens United. Harry Reid also joined the fray on Wednesday criticizing the Court for being out of touch and engaging in “activism”, asking us to rethink who we put on the bench.

As we’ve said before, this decision should serve as a wake-up call to progressives who have allowed judicial nominations to sit on the back burner while conservatives pack the court, and to the administration, which has not treated judicial nominations as a top priority. President Obama should step up his commitment to nominating wise young judges who can change the jurisprudential conversation -- and progressives need look no further than Citizens United to see what happens if we don't pay attention to judicial selection and work to help confirm those nominees who will uphold our core constitutional values.

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