Washington — The Supreme Court wrapped up its term last week after landmark decisions protecting the right to have a gun and the right of corporations to spend freely on elections. But the year’s most important moment may have come on the January evening when the justices gathered at the Capitol for President Obama’s State of the Union address.
They had no warning about what was coming.
Obama and his advisors had weighed how to respond to the court’s ruling the week before, which gave corporations the same free-spending rights as ordinary Americans. They saw the ruling as a rash, radical move to tilt the political system toward big business as they coped with the fallout from the Wall Street collapse.
Some advisors counseled caution, but the president opted to criticize the conservative justices in the uncomfortable spotlight of national television as Senate Democrats roared their approval.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is still angered by what he saw as a highly partisan insult to the independent judiciary. The incident put a public spotlight on the deep divide between the Obama White House and the Roberts court, one that could have a profound effect in the years ahead.
The president and congressional Democrats have embarked on an ambitious drive to regulate corporations, banks, health insurers and the energy industry. But the high court, with Roberts increasingly in control, will have the final word on those regulatory laws.