Obama Supreme Court Comments Provoke Backlash
President Barack Obama's candid comments on the U.S. Supreme Court's review of his health care overhaul have prompted some commentators and judges to cry "foul."
After three days of oral arguments last week that led observers to believe in the very real possibility that the cornerstone of the law -- the individual mandate -- will be struck down, Obama warned the high court against "judicial activism."
“I’d just remind conservative 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,” Obama said at a news conference.
That set off a wave of conservatives and moderates calling Obama's comments over-the-top. Refering to the judicial branch as an "unelected group" seemed like throwing down the gauntlet, especially given the court's not-at-all-unprecendented history of overturning duly passed legislation.
A three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court ordered the Justice Department to say whether or not the President believes the courts have the authority to strike down federal law. That's a defining power they've since the 1803 case Marbury v. Madison.
"That has troubled a number of people who have read it as somehow a challenge to the federal courts or to their authority or to the appropriateness of the concept of judicial review," said Judge Jerry Smith. The full remarks are available at WSJ.
Obama walked back the rhetoric Tuesday during a press conference. "The point I was making is that the Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution and our laws, and all of us have to respect it, but it's precisely because of that extraordinary power that the Court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to our duly elected legislature, our Congress," Obama said. (CBS)
This did not satisfy the President's critics.
"We were half-joking yesterday when we asked if Barack Obama slept through his Harvard Law class on Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court first asserted its power to strike down unconstitutional laws," Taranto wrote. "It turns out it's no joke: The president is stunningly ignorant about constitutional law."
Meanwhile, commentators like the Washington Post's Greg Sargent are telling the pundits to calm down, writing that the "attacks" on the third branch are tame, especially compared to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's statements on the Supreme Court while it was striking down numerous parts of the New Deal.
"I’m not defending Obama’s claim that overturning the law would be 'unprecedented' — it wouldn’t — but as 'attacks' go, this is pretty weak sauce," Sargent writes. "And it’s a bit surprising to hear so much whining about it, given the attacks on 'activist' judges conservatives have waged for years."
Reach Ryan Faughnder here.