WASHINGTON - Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito didn't like hearing President Barack Obama publicly criticize the high court's ruling removing corporate campaign spending limits - and he didn't try to hide it.
Alito made a dismissive face, shook his head repeatedly and appeared to mouth the words "not true" or possibly "simply not true" when Obama assailed the decision Wednesday night in his State of the Union address.
The president had taken the unusual step of publicly scolding the high court, with some of its robed members seated before him in the House. "With all due deference to the separation of powers," he said, the court last week "reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign corporations - to spend without limit in our elections."
A reliable conservative appointed to the court by President George W. Bush, Alito was in the majority in the 5-4 ruling. The court said corporations and unions could spend freely from their treasuries to run political ads for or against specific candidates.
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton Thursday defended the president's statement. "One of the great things about our democracy is that powerful members of the government at high levels can disagree in public and private," Burton told reporters traveling with Obama to Tampa, Fla. "This is one of those cases. But the president is not less committed to seeing this reform."
Senate Democratic leaders sitting immediately behind Alito and other members of the high court rose and clapped loudly in their direction, with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) leaning slightly forward with the most enthusiastic applause.
In his dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said the court's majority "would appear to afford the same protection to multinational corporations controlled by foreigners as to individual Americans."