Jan. 29, 2010— -- President Obama's public undressing of the robed Supreme Court justices seated in front of him at the State of the Union address turned heads and drew rebukes from Republicans.
But his words were downright genteel compared with what's been said on the Senate floor the past two days. Democrats on Capitol Hill accused conservative court members of deciding cases specifically to benefit the Republican Party.
Criticism of the court by lawmakers is nothing new, and those tensions are exactly why the American system of government enshrines a separation of powers between the three branches of government. But Democratic senators seem to have declared political war on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., for instance, said on the Senate floor Friday that he sees the court's recent decision to allow unfettered corporate and union spending on elections (though not as direct aid to candidates) as an overt bid by the majority conservative bloc to pursue "Republican political goals."
Whitehouse pointed to the recent decision recognizing corporations as having the same right to free speech as individuals.
"Connect the dots," said Whitehouse. "Republicans are the party of the corporations. The judges are the appointees of the Republicans, and the judges just delivered for the corporations. It is being done in plain view."
In the wake of that decision, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "The Supreme Court just predetermined the winners of next November's elections."
Schumer, who was in charge of Democrats' successful Senate election strategy in 2006 and 2008, has teamed with Rep. Chris van Hollen, who ran a similar effort for House Democrats in 2008 and is still in charge of their election efforts, to write legislation to essentially undo the court's decision.
Whitehouse also described recent interpretations of the 2nd Amendment inventing "a new individual constitutional right to bear arms that no previous Supreme Court had noticed for more than 200 years…"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will more obliquely demonstrate liberal frustration with the Supreme Court at a photo op Friday. He plans to appear with Lilly Ledbetter, an icon of liberal frustration with the Supreme Court. She is the former Goodyear Tire employee whose discrimination suit was not factually disputed, but overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality about when exactly the statute of limitations should run out on her case. Democrats in Congress passed The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to counter that decision. It was the first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law.
"There can be little doubt that the conservative bloc is laying the foundation for future right-wing activism in a seemingly deliberate and concerted effort to expand its political philosophy into our law," said Whitehouse on the Senate floor, adding, "and, of course, always, always, always the dramatic changes observably fall in the direction of the Republican Party's current political doctrine."
He was more direct in his speech: "One bedrock principle in our democracy is that the will of the people should be supreme, except in very limited circumstances. In the judicial context, this means that courts should hesitate before striking down statutes enacted by congress, but it seems that that's not so when core tenets of the Republican platform are involved. And it's not just this one case. There is a pattern that is discernible when these five men get together to strike down laws of congress they don't like and make new law more to their liking. The pattern is not just discernible, it is unmistakable, it is undeniable. It appears, indeed, to be without exception."
On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the ruling on corporate election spending a "threat to the rule of law" and said it is one example of "a willingness of a narrow majority of the Supreme Court to render decisions from the bench to suit their own ideological agenda."
"It's something that every one of us as Americans have to work to ensure that the system of checks and balances envisioned by the founders is not cast aside by the whimsical preferences of five justices overriding the rights of 300 million Americans," said Leahy.