If you have been following the news, you have inevitably heard of the “controversy” over President Obama’s comments on the Supreme Court and his health care legislation. In a news conference after the highly publicized oral arguments at the Supreme Court, he said:
Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And 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. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.
The comments by President Obama are factually wrong. And his attempt to use the term “judicial activism” to describe this situation is deeply misguided. That is why he has tried to “clarify” his comments several times since then.
Following those remarks, Judge Jerry Smith, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to clarify the president’s comments, since the Fifth Circuit was handling a related health care case. Very specifically, he asked for a three-page, single-spaced letter on the question of whether the court has the authority to strike down a law that it believes to be unconstitutional.
The answer by DOJ came today, and what they say is no surprise to anyone. “The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute,” wrote Attorney General Holder.
That is because there has never been a question about this. The president knows that, and Judge Smith knows that. The president was making a political statement on pending legislation that, though in poor taste, should have no bearing on the legal arguments before the Supreme Court or any other court.
It is certainly not helpful for the president, with a legal background in constitutional law such as his, to distort legal terms like he did, but that is a debate that we welcome.
The ObamaCare case is not the same as the Roe v. Wade case, for example. In Roe a few Justices read into the Constitution a right for a woman to terminate the life of her unborn baby. That’s judicial activism. To strike down ObamaCare, the Justices would only have to recognize the Constitution puts limits on the federal government and to allow the government to force people to buy certain products would completely eradicate those limits.
That is why after all the media controversy about the president’s remarks, we hope it has no bearing on what the Justices are doing in their chambers. They have a solemn duty to uphold the Constitution and striking down ObamaCare falls right in line with that.