The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is always engaged in setting important precedent that shapes our judicial system and in preserving the integrity of the Constitution – or so we hope. In comparison to the number of cases that the Supreme Court chooses to take, it is rare that it gets more than passing mention in the media. When the highest court in the land does get as much media attention as it’s getting, you know that something important is going on.
Last week, oral arguments were heard before the court in the case National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, or more commonly known as the case against Obamacare. The main issue in this case, though there are a few, is the idea of an individual mandate and the governments ability to regulate health care. Basically, is it within the power of the national government to force people to either buy government regulated health insurance or pay a fine.
Though we may not get a final decision for months from the Supreme Court, many political commentators have pointed out the likelihood that the individual mandate will be deemed unconstitutional. The real question in everyone’s mind is that if the individual mandate is deemed unconstitutional, will that be enough for the Supreme Court to overturn the entire 2,700 page bill or do they also need to make a ruling against the government regulation of health care. This is where it gets tricky. But anyway, that’s just the background. This is not meant to be an analysis of the case itself but peoples’ reactions to it, especially that of our President.
Earlier today, President Obama made this statement. Quoting from an article from USA Today:
“In his first comments on the court’s historic oral arguments last week, Obama said a decision to reverse the actions of Congress would be “judicial activism,” which conservatives usually oppose.
‘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,’ the president said.”
I’ve read that quote a dozen times and it astonishes me more and more each time. President Obama was even a self proclaimed professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School (self proclaimed because he was technically just a “Senior Lecturer”). Of all people, he should know what constitutes judicial activism, and this outcome would not fall under that classification. Judicial activism refers to judges letting personal politics affect their decisions and even legislating from the bench. As seen from his absurd comment, Obama feels that overturning any part of Obamacare would be unconstitutional because it was voted upon by the congress. There are many things wrong with that statement. I’ll try to briefly sum up my main points.
Of all people, a senior lecturer of constitutional law at such a well respected law school should understand the principle of separation of powers. There’s a reason why the judicial branch is separated from the other two branches, and not subject to election. It is so that they don’t have to worry about being pushed around by sly Chicago politicians as was the case earlier today. Their whole purpose on the Supreme Court is to keep the legislative and executive branches from passing things like this that erode our constitutional liberties. To top it off, to call such an action “unprecedented” is simply laughable.
Now, there are cases in which, by overturning a law, the Supreme Court is practicing judicial activism. These are the cases in which the law for all intents and purposes is constitutional but the court decides to “interpret” the constitution in such a way that they create a whole new precedent. This could not be further from the truth in this case. To suggest that somehow, by overturning this particular law, the judicial branch would be overstepping their bounds is completely absurd and even embarrassing to hear from our country’s executive leader.
Then why make this unfounded comment? Because Obama wants to make this political. He’s scared that his claim to infamy will be thrown out and then he will have to explain his way around this come the Fall when the general election is in full swing. He hopes that if he can perpetuate the idea now that the justices are a bunch of rouge activists out to get him, then the public will look past that the authorities in the land on the constitution have deemed his precious legislation unconstitutional.
Orrin Hatch (R-UT) summed this all up quite nicely when he 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,’ ”
But the truth is, when he was inaugurated, the President swore to uphold the constitution and he has made more attempts since F.D.R. to rip it to shreds for his own political gain. It’s time for this to come to an end.