Obama Defends Health Law in Public Comments on Supreme Court Case

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In his first public comments on the Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the federal health reform law, President Obama on Monday said he is confident the high court will uphold the legislation, the New York Times reports.

Details of Obama's Comments

Obama defended the overhaul and warned justices that striking it down would be an "unprecedented, extraordinary step" (Landler, New York Times, 4/2).

Many observers noted that the comments mark a rare instance of a sitting president discussing a pending Supreme Court case prior to a decision. According to the Wall Street Journal, Obama appeared to be framing the argument he would make to voters ahead of the November election, should the court strike down the overhaul (Meckler/Lee, Wall Street Journal, 4/2).

Obama said, "I'd just remind commentators that for years what we've heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law." He said he is "pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step" (Mason, Reuters, 4/2).

White House officials have said they are not working on a contingency plan in case the court strikes down the law. When questioned about the administration's lack of a back-up plan, Obama said he is "confident that this law will be upheld because it should be upheld."

He added, "There's not only an economic element and a legal element, but a human element to this," noting that 2.5 million young adults have coverage through a provision in the law and tens of thousands of U.S. residents with pre-existing conditions have gained coverage through the overhaul (Nakamura, Washington Post, 4/2).

Overhaul Opponents Criticize Obama's Comments

Opponents of the health reform law were quick to criticize Obama's comments, USA Today reports.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, "It must be nice living in a fantasy world where every law you like is constitutional and every Supreme Court decision you don't is 'activist'" (Wolf/Jackson, USA Today, 4/2).

Andrea Saul, a spokesperson for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, noted the president's use of the word "unprecedented." She said, "What was 'unprecedented' was the partisan process President Obama used to shove this unconstitutional bill through despite the overwhelming objections from Americans across the country" (Reuters, 4/2).

Clyburn Says Reform Could Take Many Years, Steps

Addressing the possibility that the Supreme Court could invalidate the health reform law, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) likened health reform to the civil rights movement and said it likely would be a "multiyear, multistep process," Politico reports.

In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Clyburn said that U.S. residents typically think the penultimate moment of the civil rights movement was the Civil Rights Act. However, he said, "What folks call the Civil Rights Act are four distinct acts done over eight years." Clyburn added, "That's what I think we're gonna have to do with health care."

Clyburn also urged supporters of the overhaul to continue to try to reform the U.S. health care system, even if the law is struck down. "I would hope that would be our approach rather than sit around and agonize over" the high court's decision, he said (Dixon, Politico, 4/2).

Clyburn added that Obama should campaign against the Supreme Court should it strike down the law, and depict it as a conservative, activist institution, The Hill's "Hill Tube" reports (Easley, "Hill Tube," The Hill, 4/2).

Poll Finds High Court Case Reinforced Partisanship

Although public opinion on the health reform law mostly was unchanged in the wake of the Supreme Court oral arguments, the oral arguments reinforced many partisan opinions on the overhaul, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports. The survey found:

  • 63% of respondents said the arguments did not alter their opinion of the overhaul;
  • 65% of respondents said their opinion of the high court did not change;
  • 35% of Republicans said they now have a less favorable opinion of the overhaul; and
  • 32% of Democrats said they have a less favorable opinion of the high court (Baker, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 4/2).

Justice Sotomayor Silent on High Court's Decision

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Monday in a lecture at the University of the District of Columbia did not make any comments on the justices' decision in the overhaul case, the AP/Politico reports.

Sotomayor used most of the lecture to explain the high court's process and her decision to become an attorney and a prosecutor (AP/Politico, 4/3).

Bill Mosca
If President Obama had studied earlier decisions by the Supreme Court, he would realize that their striking down a law passed by Congress – even one passed by an overwhelming majority – is not “unprecedented”. That is exactly what the Supreme Court does – and is charged by the Constitution to do - when it does not consider a law as “constitutional”. There are many Supreme Court decisions I do not agree with, but I do not characterize them as “judicial activism”.

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