Reacting to noted constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas’ criticism that President Benigno Aquino III acted like Cuban strongman Fidel Castro when he ordered the initiated the hasty impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda pointed out that United States President Barack Obama also engaged in Supreme Court-bashing in front of a joint session of Congress last year. He is right.
In his 2010 State of the Union address, with six of the nine US high court magistrates, including Chief Justice John Roberts, in attendance, Obama slammed the Supreme Court for ruling that private corporations are allowed to donate money for or against certain candidates and causes as long as there’s full disclosure of where the contribution is going.
Here’s that portion of Obama’s address, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:
“Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign companies — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said tonight. “Well, I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and 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.”
The court’s ruling overturned a century-old restriction. In a 5-4 decision led by the court’s conservative bloc, the justices said that corporations had the same right to free speech as individuals, and for that reason the government could not stop corporations from spending to help their favored candidates. Many analysts predict the ruling will benefit Republicans in next fall’s midterm elections.
As noted in the report, a slim majority of justices in the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents. Chief Justice Roberts was appointed in 2005 by George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor. This is somehow similar to Aquino’s present problem – dealing with a Supreme Court dominated by appointees of ex President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Aquino opposed Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice from the day he was sworn in by Arroyo. Obama opposed Robert’s confirmation when he was still a senator from Illinois. Here are excerpts from Obama’s explanation of vote:
“In his (John Roberts) work in the White House and the Solicitor General’s Office, he seemed to have consistently sided with those who were dismissive of efforts to eradicate the remnants of racial discrimination in our political process. In these same positions, he seemed dismissive of the concerns that it is harder to make it in this world and in this economy when you are a woman rather than a man.”
It will be prudent to point out the differences between the dynamics of the two Supreme Courts. The mandatory retirement age of Filipino magistrates is set at 70, while American high court justices can serve indefinitely. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that a single American president can appoint a majority of them (unlike here in the Philippines). For instance, George W. Bush was able to appoint only two SC justices during his eight-year term.
Going back to the Obama-Roberts rift: The latter dealt the former a counterpunch six weeks after the State of the Union address (March 2010). As CBS News reported, Roberts described Obama’s tirade against the Supreme Court as “very troubling” because in doing so, the President did not observe “proper decorum.” Roberts also slammed the SOUA for degenerating into a “political pep rally.” Here’s what he said:
“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 the requirements of protocol – has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling.”
Shortly after Aquino berated Corona during a Supreme Court-sponsored criminal justice summit, Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said:
“It is not at all unusual for the Executive Branch to disagree with the Judicial Branch. But what is considerably unusual is for the Chief Executive to look down on the members of the Judiciary in public … and to their faces denounce the Court’s independent actions, as the Chief Justice sat speechless, motionless and expressionless because of the requirements of protocol,” he added.
Notice any similarity in the way the statements were worded?
From Manila Standard Today, March 20, 2010:
“(Aquino) raised the threat of impeachment against anyone Mrs. Arroyo would name to replace Chief Justice Reynato Puno when he retires on May 17.”
Seems like Aquino has long prepared for a battle against Corona.