President Obama recently warned the Supreme Court against overturning his health care law—stating that such an action would be “unprecedented.” What is really unprecedented is a sitting President, regrettably, not only commenting on a matter before the court, but also attempting to influence the Supreme Court justices. It may be good politics for a presidential candidate to rail against the highest court of the land, but it is a new low for a President to do so for political gains.
In their infinite wisdom, the Founding Fathers created the judiciary branch to be an independent court of last resort whose primary duty is to interpret and decide if the laws made by Congress or an act of a President are constitutional—a power known as judicial review. Since 1803, with the landmark ruling in the Marbury v. Madison case, the Supreme Court has asserted its power to interpret the United States Constitution and to determine the constitutionality of laws passed by Congress. And in many instances since then, the Supreme Court has overturned even those laws passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress. According to Wikipedia, the Supreme Court has ruled that about 163 laws passed by Congress are unconstitutional to date. The Court should be guided by the key question of constitutionality regardless of whether a law is popular with the public or has the backing of a large majority in Congress. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life just so as to allow them the freedom to make judgments insulated from political compulsions or public pressure.
By issuing a public warning as he did, President Obama has also signaled to his supporters that it is acceptable to influence and threaten the Court. Promptly, Maureen Dowd in an opinion-editorial piece in The New York Times opined that the Supreme Court is “run by hacks dressed up in black robes” and went on to accuse the judges of playing politics.
According to press reports, the Obama 2012 campaign is already strategizing to make the Supreme Court a center piece of the fall campaign, instead of honorably going to the voters with a strong track record of results to seek re-election for a second term.
We are not only a democracy but also a nation of laws under the Constitution. While I am all in support of the health care law, I believe it must still pass Supreme Court muster to be constitutional. It is unfortunate that our President, a former Constitutional Law teacher, conveniently ignores this requirement, and not only publicly admonishes the Court for doing its duty but also warns them to rule his way! The President’s comments fly in the face of the oath that he took to “protect and defend the Constitution.”
Rameysh Ramdas, an SF Bay Area professional, writes as a hobby.
Yes, Obama did the right thing by issuing a cautionary statement
There are supreme courts that find themselves on the right side of history and ones on the wrong side. Through 5-4 decisions on major cases the Roberts’ court is tending towards the latter—a partisan panel that decides cases based on politics. According to US News, this court has four of the five most conservative justices since Franklin D. Roosevelt and even the so-called moderate on the court, Justice Kennedy, ranks #10 on the conservative scale. This data indicates that this is a radical right wing court. According to a recent Bloomberg survey, 75% believe the court will decide the Affordable Care Act based on politics, and not entirely on merit.
Perhaps President Obama was speaking on behalf of the 75% when he appealed to the court to prevent the ruling from being a 5-4 decision. In reminding the court of their power, and the fact that they are unelected, President Obama was simply rephrasing what Lincoln stated in his 1861 inaugural address, that not all political questions are reconciled once they are judged by the “eminent tribunal.”
This court has shown that it is a partisan operation by their blatant political activism. Justice Scalia went on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney three weeks after agreeing to take up a case concerning the Vice President’s energy task force. Justice Thomas and Dick Cheney have attended events organized by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.”
Justice Thomas and his wife have received over $700,000 from conservative groups which he failed to disclose to the IRS. Through such actions, this court has done enough to demean itself in the public eye and paint itself as a partisan entity. It is refreshing to hear the President reminding the court of the awesome power they have, and asking that they wield it without radical partisanship as they have done in the past.
During oral arguments on the health care law, Justice Scalia equated the health insurance mandate to forcing people to eat broccoli and joked that having to read the full healthcare law was tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Thomas recently made a speech claiming he did not hear anything to change his mind during the three days of hearings. Perhaps he should have asked some questions to enhance his understanding!
For millions of Americans, this law can mean life or death. Is it too much to ask the justices to take the matter seriously? The President merely urged the court to speak in one voice while ruling on this important law that was supported by 60 senators and a majority of the house, and to prevent a tyranny of the minority.
Mani Subramani works in the semi-conductor industry in Silicon Valley.