On April 2, 2012, shortly after the oral arguments over the controversial health care reform bill ended, President Obama made a statement regarding the Supreme Court. During a news conference, he said that â€œUltimately, 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.â€
While it is well within the presidentâ€™s rights to make comments about the legal system, his bold statement has several major fallacies.
It is important to first point out that the health care bill was passed in the House of Representatives, but only by a vote of 219 to 212, with both Democrats and Republicans voting in opposition. Because there were four vacancies in the House at the time of the vote, the bill needed to receive a minimum of 216 votes to pass. While the bill did exceed this requirement, 219 votes hardly constitute a â€œstrong majority.â€ In response to the accusation that the Court would be expressing aggressive judicial activism if it overturned the law, one must not forget that for more than two centuries the Supreme Court has been overturning laws and, in turn, keeping both the legislative and executive branches in check.
As the final arbiter of law, the ultimate responsibility of the United States Supreme Court is to ensure equal justice as it interprets the Constitution. In fact, the framers of the Constitution specifically designed the three branches of government to be independent of one another through a system of checks and balances.
Before being elected Commander-in-Chief, President Obama taught three courses in Constitutional Law from 1992 to 2004 in Chicago. Recognizing the tough academic rigor that this course employs, it is hard to imagine that the president is unfamiliar with the legality of Supreme Court judges overturning federal laws.
In fact, the first time the Court declared a federal law unconstitutional was in Marbury v. Madison of 1803. This case not only established the precedent for the exercise of judicial review, but has led to the reversal of numerous unconstitutional federal laws. The court also derives its authority of judicial review from implications in Article III, another legal fact that President Obama should be overly familiar with.
In response to the heated comments over the presidentâ€™s statement on April 2, Eric Holder tried to clarify the issue. He wrote that, â€œWhile duly recognizing the courts’ authority to engage in judicial review, the Executive Branch has often urged courts to respect the legislative judgments of Congress.â€ While this statement may help to clear up the presidentâ€™s opinion about federal court rulings, it still creates conflict over the power of judicial review. If the Supreme Court had been designed to â€œrespect the legislative judgments of Congress,â€ then the entire system of checks and balances would have no significance. But this is not the case, and the Supreme Court continues to hold the precedented right to declare legislation unconstitutional.
On the right-hand side of this issue, we see conservatives arguing that it is well within the bounds of the court to decide on issues being pressed on the states. On the left-hand side, we see a rebuttal that the courts need to stay out of all economic regulations. Regardless of party affiliation or political ideology, it is imperative that all American citizens, President Obama included, recognize that the Supreme Court has the final say over the constitutionality of federal laws.
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Jenna Lowery is a freshman political science major and a member of the College Republicans at CSU.