Would overturning health-care reform be 'judicial activism'?

For the Supreme Court to strike down health-care law, including its key individual mandate, smacks of the judicial activism typically denounced by conservatives, President Obama says.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Supporters of health-care reform rally in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, last week, on the final day of arguments regarding the health-care law signed by President Obama.

President Obama weighed in on the constitutionality of his health-care reform law on Monday, saying he was confident the measure would be affirmed by the US Supreme Court.

He also warned the court’s conservative justices that striking down the law would constitute the kind of judicial activism often denounced by conservative commentators.

“I’m confident that this will be upheld because it should be upheld,” Mr. Obama said during a press conference at the White House with the president of Mexico and the Canadian prime minister.

“That’s not just my opinion; that’s the opinion of a whole lot of constitutional law professors and academics and judges and lawyers who’ve examined this law,” the president said.

Last week the Supreme Court heard six hours of argument examining several aspects of the law, including its central feature – a government mandate that every American purchase an approved level of health insurance or pay a penalty.

Legal analysts at the hearings said the centerpiece of the law, the so-called individual mandate, and perhaps the entire law, appeared to be in peril from five justices on the court’s conservative wing.

Obama suggested it would be “judicial activism” for a majority of the high court’s nine justices to decide that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act exceeded Congress’s authority to enact it. The law is the most important domestic legislative achievement of Obama’s tenure as president. The law’s demise on constitutional grounds would be an embarrassment in an election year.

“I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” Obama said.

He noted that the law had enabled “tens of thousands of adults” with preexisting health conditions to obtain insurance that was otherwise unavailable or too expensive. He added that “millions of seniors” are paying less for prescription drugs because of the law’s expanded subsidies.

The president said ultimately the law was designed to spread the benefits of health insurance to 30 million uninsured Americans.

“I think the American people understand, and I think the justices should understand, that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care,” the president said.

“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,” he said.

The Affordable Care Act passed the US Senate on Dec. 24, 2009, by a vote of 60 to 39, and it passed the US House of Representatives three months later, 219 to 212. No Republican in either body voted for the measure.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision by late June.

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