White House: Obama's Observation About Supreme Court Was 'Unremarkable'

Susan Jones | April 5, 2012 | 6:30am EDT
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White House Press Secretary Jay Carney speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama's controversial comments on the Supreme Court were "the reverse of intimidation," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Wednesday.

Obama was "simply making an observation about precedent and the fact that he expects the court to adhere to that precedent," Carney said.

"What the president said both yesterday (Tuesday) and the day before -- well, what he did was make an unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history -- the fact that since the Lochner era of the Court, since the 1930s, the Supreme Court has, without exception, deferred to Congress when it comes to Congress’s authority to pass legislation, to regulate matters of national economic importance such as health care," Carney said.  

"That is an observation and not a particularly remarkable one. It is a statement of fact. And he also expressed his faith that the Supreme Court would keep to that 85-year history of judicial precedent, and uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act."

On Monday, President Obama expressed confidence "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 reminded "conservative commentators that for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench is judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint. For an unelected group of people to somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law is a good example of that, and I’m pretty sure this court will recognize that and not take that step.”

The comments, coming from a former constitutional law professor, amazed many people, some of whom accused Obama of trying to intimidate the Justices ahead of their ruling on the Democrats' health care law.

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Others flatly rejected the notion that the Supreme Court would be doing something "unprecedented" and "extraordinary" in overturning a law passed by Congress that is found to be unconstitutional. The court's authority to conduct "judicial review" was established in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison.

Obama knows that, Rush Limbaugh said Wednesday on his radio show. Limbaugh believes Obama is trying to prepare his supporters -- the "stupid" ones -- for the possibility that the Supreme Court will take their health care away -- and if it does so, the court somehow will be breaking precedent and engaging in judicial activism.

"Let's be perfectly clear,," Limbaugh said on Wednesday's show. "He (Obama) knows what he's doing. He knows he was lying. He knows about judicial review. He knows that the Supreme Court has thrown out many laws. He knows all this.  People that have never gone to law school know this.  It's absurd, folks, to think that he doesn't know this.  His audience, for those comments that he's made the last two days on Obamacare and the Supreme Court, is the ignorant population of America who he wants to believe that the court is going to do something it's never done before."

On Wednesday, Carney said Obama "did not suggest -- did not mean and did not suggest -- that...it would be unprecedented for the Court to rule that a law was unconstitutional.  That's what the Supreme Court is there to do," Carney said. "But it has, under the Commerce Clause, deferred to Congress's authority in matters of national economic importance.

Carney said it is clear that Obama was talking about cases dealing with the Commerce Clause that "involve Congress passing legislation to deal with issues of national economic importance -- national economic matters like health insurance, which is clearly a national economic issue.  That's what he was referring to."

Carney said Obama clarified his Supreme Court comments on Tuesday "only because a handful of people didn't seem to understand what he was referring to: "Of course, he was referring to the fact that it would be unprecedented in the modern era of the Supreme Court, since the New Deal era, for the Supreme Court to overturn legislation passed by Congress designed to regulate and deal with a national economic -- a matter of national economic importance like our health care system.  

"That is a fact. Since the Lochner era, which ended when the Court began to defer to Congress on New Deal legislation, the Supreme Court has not done that, has not broken the precedent set there.  And that's a number of years now.  That's what would be unprecedented about it."

As for Obama's reference to a law "passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress," one reporter reminded Carney that the health care law passed the House by a mere five votes, 219-212. Not a single Republican voted for the bill.

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