Commentary Magazine


Lawyers Should Cheer

Following the flap over Obama’s State of the Union attack on the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law, I wrote that it would be a good idea for the justices to skip the event in the future, since it has become a partisan affair that needlessly embroils them in political matters. I am delighted to see that I am on the same wavelength as the chief justice:

Chief Justice John Roberts told students at the University of Alabama Tuesday that President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he singled out a recent Supreme Court decision on campaign finance law for criticism, was “very troubling” and said the annual event has “degenerated into a political pep rally,” the A.P. reports.

Taking a question from a law school student, Roberts said anyone is welcome to criticize the court. “I have no problems with that,” he 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. . . I’m not sure why we’re there,” he said.

This is precisely the question raised by the president’s use of the justices as props for his showboating. Shouldn’t there be universal agreement that the Court should remove itself from partisan affairs? Let’s see how the media and legal elite greet this one. At least one thing is clear: this supposedly post-partisan president, who ran for office decrying old-style politics, has hyper-charged with partisanship nearly everything with which he comes in contact — the census, the Court, and the Justice Department, for starters. It’s good to see that not everyone is playing along. And it’s better still to see Chief Justice Roberts defend the dignity and apolitical nature of the Court. Obama may lose his props, but we should all benefit from the reminder that the justices are not in the business of cheerleading the president nor duty bound to perform the role of mute extras in his political drama.