In his Friday "Washington Memo," "A Rare Rebuke, In Front of a Nation ," Adam Liptak, ,the paper's Supreme Court beat reporter argued the justice committed a "breach of decorum" when he silently mouthed the words "not true" after a rhetorical attack by the president at the State of the Union Address.
It is not unusual for presidents to disagree publicly with Supreme Court decisions. But they tend to do so at news conferences and in written statements, not to the justices' faces.
President George W. Bush, for instance, did not hesitate to criticize a 2008 ruling recognizing the rights of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba - but he did it at a news conference in Rome. President Richard M. Nixon said he was disappointed with a 1974 decision ordering him to turn over the tapes that would help end his presidency - in a statement read by his lawyer.
President Obama's approach at the State of the Union address Wednesday night was more personal, and he seemed a little self-conscious about it.
Before he began his attack on a Supreme Court decision not yet a week old, Mr. Obama added a few words that had not been in the prepared text. The new preface - "with all due deference to separation of powers" - seemed to acknowledge that he was aiming unusual rhetorical fire at several Supreme Court justices sitting right in front of him.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., one of the justices in the majority in the decision under attack, shook his head as he heard the president's summary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and he appeared to mouth the words "not true."
It was not quite the shouted "You lie!" from Representative Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, at September's presidential address to a joint session of Congress. But in its way, the breach of decorum on both sides was much starker.
Liptak didn't mention the reaction by members of the other brach of government: The Democrats standing up and vigorously applauding Obama's attack right over the heads of the justices, as they sat mostly stone-faced. That reaction from half the Congress, along with the president's verbal attack, makes Justice Alito's silent dissent look all the more mild in comparison.