Justice Alito’s non-Joe Wilson Moment
Last night’s State of the Union address was, for the most part, another eloquent display by a President who can really deliver a speech when he’s on his game, though largely lacking in anything shocking or substantial. It did have a few interesting moments, though, and one of them came when he curiously chose once again to go after the Supreme Court over their recent Citizens United decision. A couple of Obama’s comments should have rightly raised the eyebrows of anyone listening.
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections. Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities.”
The sheer number of incorrect things in that one brief passage is startling, given how quickly it came and went. But the cameras in the chamber happened to catch the reaction of SCOTUS Justice Sam Alito shaking his head and mouthing the words, “Not true” while the President was speaking. This, of course, prompted some of the usual suspects to immediately get up on their hind legs and describe it as Alito’s “Joe Wilson moment.”
How one makes that “logical leap” is a mystery. First of all, Wilson’s outburst was shouted out, disrupting the proceedings. Altio, as even his detractors describe it, simply “mouthed the words” while sitting quietly with the rest of the justices. He also did not accuse the President of “lying.” He was simply pointing out that he was “wrong” on the facts. How wrong was he? For those who actually care about the specific facts of the case, it is explained by Bradley Smith at The Corner. (Hat tip, Ed Morrissey)
The Court held that 2 U.S.C. Section 441a, which prohibits all corporate political spending, is unconstitutional. Foreign nationals, specifically defined to include foreign corporations, are prohibiting from making “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State or local election” under 2 U.S.C. Section 441e, which was not at issue in the case. Foreign corporations are also prohibited, under 2 U.S.C. 441e, from making any contribution or donation to any committee of any political party, and they prohibited from making any “expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication… .”
This is either blithering ignorance of the law, or demagoguery of the worst kind.
Sam Alito is far from my favorite Justice on the court right now. (I don’t even have his rookie baseball card in my collection.) But he’s obviously right about this. Obama was making hyerbolic claims about foreigners coming with bags of money to take over our elections. That’s a pretty nifty talking point to rile up your supporters as such things go. But it’s also factually incorrect.
In addition to not having anything to do with foreign corporations, Obama’s claim that the ruling overturned “a century of law” also holds no water, as Ed points out in his “Obamateurism of the Day.”
[T]he Citizens United decision changed less than a decade of law. The century of law prohibited corporations from contributing to candidates — and the Supreme Court decision didn’t change that at all. Spending limits on political speech, including a pre-emptive bar on advertising by corporations and special interests within a certain time range prior to the election, only came into being through McCain-Feingold. And that was in 2002, not 1910.
This was a rather stunning conclusion coming from a President who was supposed to have taught constitutional law. I’m not sure which is worse… the idea that Obama is intentionally lying about the court decision to score political points or that neither he nor any of his advisers and speech writers understand the court ruling. In any event, when you wake up today and see a number of left leaning writers running around with their hair on fire over Alito’s reaction, just keep the above facts in mind. Alito silently remarked that Obama was “wrong” on the facts. And he was. Totally wrong, as it turns out.