In Helene Cooper's Wednesday morning "Caucus" post at nytimes.com, "White House Spars With the Chief Justice," she accused Supreme Court conservative Justice Samuel Alito of "breaking with decorum" at the State of the Union speech in January, when President Obama criticized a Supreme Court decision on campaign finance in blunt - and false - terms. During the SOTU, Obama claimed "the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections." (In fact, the ruling did not address contributions by foreign firms to U.S. political campaigns.)
The claim came in a post on Chief Justice John Roberts' speech at the University of Alabama in which he criticized the president's action:
Mr. Roberts told a University of Alabama audience that the setting at the joint session of Congress degenerated into a pep rally which he found "very troubling." Mr. Obama had directly singled out a recent ruling, known as Citizens United, that has lifted restrictions on corporations and unions for election communications.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs quickly responded, saying that the real trouble was how the decision drowned out the voices of average Americans.
While Cooper didn't see Obama's public rebuke of the Supreme Court's ruling as inappropriate, she accused Alito of "breaking with decorum at such events" that apparently required him to sit motionless and take the abuse from Obama and Democratic politicians standing and clapping directly over his head.
Most of the Supreme Court justices were in attendance that evening, and Mr. Obama's rebuke was particularly noteworthy. It escalated with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. breaking with decorum at such events, by shaking his head and appearing to mouth the words, "no, it's not true."
During his remarks in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, Mr. Roberts said he's not sure that justices should attend the annual speech. "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 to the requirements of protocol - has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling."
Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak was closer to accurate in his January 29 story on the speech, determining there had been a "breach of decorum on both sides."