Dem Senator: Obama’s Attack on Supreme Court at Last Year’s SOTU May Not Have Been 'Appropriate’

By Dan Joseph | January 25, 2011 | 4:22 PM EST

President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Friday, Dec. 17, 2010 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( – Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said Tuesday that President Obama must set an appropriate tone at this evening's State of the Union address and that it may not have been appropriate for Obama to attack the Supreme Court--some of whose members were sitting in front of him--in last year's State of the Union Addresss.

In a Capitol Hill press conference intended to focus on a bipartisan seating arrangement that Udall, Rep. Heath Shuler (D.-N.C.) and others are promoting for the State of the Union address, asked Udall and Shuler whether they were among those Democrats who stood and applauded when President Obama attacked the Supreme Court for its decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that struck down some elements of federal election law for violating the First Amendment right of free speech.

Specifically, asked: “Senator, if someone were to go back and review the C-SPAN video of last year’s State of the Union Address would they see you, Senator Udall and you, Congressman Shuler standing and cheering when President Obama made his unprecedented attack on the Supreme Court Justices for their decision in the Citizens United case?"

Udall said he did not remember whether he was among those who stood applauded the president’s attack. (Videotape of last year's speech indicates the vast majority of Democrats in attendance rose to their feet in applause when Obama when Obama went after the Supreme Court for its Citizens United decision.)

“I don’t know,” Udall said. “I don’t remember. I do know that I had concerns about that case and that’s a whole ‘nother topic, of course. But we’re turning the page. This is a new start. This is a reset.”

Later on in the same press conference Udall brought the subject up again and said that Obama’s comments about the court at last year' State of the Union Address may not have been appropriate.

“Certainly the president--it’s his night,” Udall said. “He has a responsibility for the tone that he sets.  The gentleman earlier asked about the comments about the Supreme Court last year. Maybe those weren’t appropriate given the new tone we’re trying to set.”

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United vs. the FEC lifted restrictions on companies, unions, and other organizations, allowing them to make independent expenditures in political campaigns.
During his 2010 State of the Union address to Congress, Obama chided the Supreme Court for its decision.

“Last week, 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,” Obama said. “Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”

Justice Samuel Alito was seen to mouth the words "Not True" after Obama's comments. The ruling, in fact, did not allow corporations to contribute directly to a campaign or to coordinate expenditures with a campaign. Nor did the ruling lift existing law that blocks foreign contributions to political campaigns.

Tuesday's press conference saw representatives and senators of both parties join Udall in encouraging members of Congress to sit with a member of the opposite party at tonight’s speech instead of separating themselves along party lines as has been the longstanding tradition. 

“There’s a old saying that ‘the function follows form,’” said Udall.  “And if we’re sitting together mixing like the Homeland Security Committee does under the leadership of Senators Lieberman and Collins or we’re sitting like we will tonight that leads to a sense that we’re in this together.”

Also speaking at the press conference were Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) and freshman Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.)