The Supreme Court: Did Obama try to bully the justices?

The president's public caution to the Supreme Court unleashed a flurry of opinion.

Barack Obama isn’t the first president to criticize a Supreme Court ruling, said Jim Powell in But he might be the first to do so while the justices are still deliberating. Last week, in a blatant attempt to intimidate the Supreme Court into upholding his health-care law, Obama publicly reminded the justices that they’re “an unelected group of people,” and warned them not to take the “unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.” That’s the kind of chilling presidential warning you’d expect in “places like Balochistan,” said Mark Steyn in In our free society, the Supreme Court has not only the power but the responsibility to ensure that the president and Congress do not overstep their constitutional boundaries. The only thing unprecedented here is the Supreme Court actively deliberating on a crucial case while our power-mad president is “idly swinging his tire iron and saying, ‘Nice little Supreme Court you got here. Shame if anything were to happen to it.’”

It’s “just silly” to think Obama’s trying to intimidate the court, said Jonathan Cohn in He didn’t threaten to impeach the justices, or to ignore their ruling if it goes against him. He merely said he was “confident” the justices would uphold the law. Given what’s at stake here—the possibility that five conservative justices would deprive tens of millions of people of health insurance—Obama “has a duty” to speak out. The right-wing outrage at his remarks is laughable, said Jeff Shesol in Republicans called for the impeachment of liberal members of the Warren Court after its civil-rights rulings in the 1960s and 1970s, and after Roe v. Wade in 1973, fiery denunciations of “unelected” tyrants “legislating from the bench” became Republican boilerplate. The power struggle between the courts and the presidency “is one of the defining conflicts in our national life,” and presidents have every right to use their bully pulpit in that tug-of-war.

If anything, said Marvin Ammori in, Obama was too mild in his criticism. From the shameless Bush v. Gore ruling that decided the 2000 general election, to the Citizens United decision allowing billionaires and corporations to spend unlimited sums corrupting our political system, right-wing Supreme Court justices have demonstrated blatant, pro-Republican partisanship. If the current court majority want to indulge their partisan biases in an unending series of 5–4 rulings, they should be subjected to “the same political arguments and passions to which we subject the rest of Washington.” Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has demonstrated a distinct agenda, said E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post. Its goal is to roll back the New Deal and 80 years of judicial precedent, stripping away protections from consumers, workers, and the poor, and giving corporations and the rich unchallenged power. Conservatives are in shock that Obama dared challenge this radical power grab; they prefer “passive, intimidated liberals to the fighting kind.”

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Clearly, both sides are guilty of hypocrisy, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, but it’s now the turn of liberals to learn the hard lesson that conservatives spent decades learning. The way to influence Supreme Court rulings is not through whining or threats, but by winning elections and appointing justices who share your views. No, the process isn’t quick, or easy, or guaranteed to succeed. But “who ever said it ought to be?”

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