Obama Trying to Bully Justices

What next from President Barack Obama? Outright refusal to obey the Supreme Court if it rules against his national health care law?

It wouldn’t be anything new. President Andrew Jackson, upset because of an 1832 high court ruling, allegedly had this to say: Chief Justice “John Marshall has made his decision – now let him enforce it.” In a letter, Jackson referred to the court’s order as “still born” and questioned whether the state of Georgia, one of the parties in the case, would obey the court.

But it may seem Obama wouldn’t know that, to judge by comments he made this week.

Obama and liberals throughout the country are virtually apoplectic at the thought the court may strike down the national health care law. It is not referred to as “Obamacare” for nothing; the president considers it his signature achievement.

Here’s some of what he had to say: “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.”

Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the “strong majority” claim.

It was approved by the U.S. Senate in a 60-39 vote. But in the House of Representatives, the vote was 219-212 – far from a strong majority.

And, were the measure to come to a vote in the House now, it undoubtedly would be rejected.

What about the “unprecedented, extraordinary” part? Obama must have slept through constitutional law class, even though he taught it for awhile.

Supreme Court rulings that laws be struck down are anything but unprecedented and extraordinary. The court has been doing it since 1803. Justices strike down laws during every term of the court – and they don’t care whether the statutes have wide support in legislative bodies or even among Americans in general.

It happens that Obamacare is disliked by a substantial majority of people in this country, as public opinion polls have made clear. But that isn’t the court’s concern.

Its function – as anyone who paid attention in high school civics class knows – is to act as a “check and balance” on abuse of power by the executive and legislative branches of government. Justices decide whether laws are constitutional.

At first glance Obama’s comments seem to reflect a deep, inexcusable ignorance of how the American system works. But that isn’t it. He’s a smart, well-educated man. He knows what he is saying is wrong.

So what’s his game? Is he trying to intimidate the nine Supreme Court justices? To convince the public to do so?

Perhaps. Obama is well aware that while justices take their jobs as arbiters of the Constitution seriously, they are sensitive to public opinion. A justice sitting on the fence regarding Obamacare’s constitutionality might be nudged by a flood of angry e-mails.

There’s more: Obama also chastised conservatives who have been critical of activist judges. He claimed their target has been “judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” The Supreme Court should not do that, the president said.

Wrong again – as Obama knows. Conservatives almost never complain about court rulings that merely strike down unconstitutional statutes. Their complaint about activist judges concerns those who go the next step, to, in effect, legislating from the bench.

Examples abound. Here in West Virginia, for example, the court many years ago ordered public school reform, going into detail about what would be required. That was activism. Since then, the court has backed away from that but has upheld its position the old rules on school financing were unconstitutional.

There’s a big difference between real judicial activism and simply striking down a law the president considers his private property.

Obama knows all this. He’s just trying to bully the Supreme Court.

He also should know that historically, that hasn’t worked very well.

Myer can be reached via e-mail at myer@theintelligencer.net.