Media conservatives falsely claim Obama's Supreme Court criticism was "unprecedented"


Right-wing media are attacking President Obama for his criticism of the recent Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC during the State of the Union, calling it "unprecedented" and accusing the president of "intimidation." In fact, Obama's comments were not "unprecedented"; Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have previously used the State of the Union to criticize judicial actions, including those of the Supreme Court.

Right-wing media accuse Obama of "intimidation" in "unprecedented" Supreme Court criticism

Drudge: "INTIMIDATION: Obama directly condemns Supreme Court; Dems cheer." On January 27, the Drudge Report linked to a video clip of the State of the Union speech with the following headline:


Napolitano: Obama's "attempt to intimidate" the Supreme Court has "never happened before." On the January 29 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Fox News contributor Andrew Napolitano said that the president's comments regarding the Supreme Court decision had "never happened before" and that he had "insulted them to their faces." He claimed that the Supreme Court justices were "guests" at the State of the Union and that "in that environment, [Obama] attacks them in a position where they cannot respond, and then attempts to intimidate them by inducing members of Congress to stand up and applaud, suggesting that he's right and they're wrong."

Krauthammer: Obama's comment "I believe is unprecedented." On the January 28 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer said, "President Obama attacked the Supreme Court at the State of the Union address, which I believe is unprecedented." He called the comments "a direct attack" and "a breach of etiquette which shouldn't have happened."

In fact, presidents have a history of directly addressing and criticizing the Supreme Court

Harding criticized the Supreme Court for overturning the Child Labor Law in his 1922 State of the Union. In 1922, the Supreme Court found the Child Labor Law of 1919 to be unconstitutional. In his State of the Union address, President Warren G. Harding criticized the court for putting "this problem outside the proper domain of Federal regulation until the Constitution is so amended as to give the Congress indubitable authority. I recommend the submission of such an amendment."

Reagan criticized the court for its ruling on school prayer. In his 1988 State of the Union address, Reagan expressed his displeasure with the court's recent ruling on school prayer:

And let me add here: So many of our greatest statesmen have reminded us that spiritual values alone are essential to our nation's health and vigor. The Congress opens its proceedings each day, as does the Supreme Court, with an acknowledgment of the Supreme Being. Yet we are denied the right to set aside in our schools a moment each day for those who wish to pray. I believe Congress should pass our school prayer amendment.

Reagan directly attacked the Supreme Court for Roe v. Wade. In his 1984 State of the Union address, Reagan attacked the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, during a discussion on abortion:

And while I'm on this subject, each day your Members observe a 200-year-old tradition meant to signify America is one nation under God. I must ask: If you can begin your day with a member of the clergy standing right here leading you in prayer, then why can't freedom to acknowledge God be enjoyed again by children in every schoolroom across this land?


During our first 3 years, we have joined bipartisan efforts to restore protection of the law to unborn children. Now, I know this issue is very controversial. But unless and until it can be proven that an unborn child is not a living human being, can we justify assuming without proof that it isn't? No one has yet offered such proof; indeed, all the evidence is to the contrary. We should rise above bitterness and reproach, and if Americans could come together in a spirit of understanding and helping, then we could find positive solutions to the tragedy of abortion.

Bush condemned "activist judges" who are "redefining marriage by court order." In his 2004 State of the Union address, Bush criticized "activist judges" who, according to him, were "redefining marriage by court order":

Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our Nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

The outcome of this debate is important, and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight.

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