Obama seeks to defuse healthcare fight with appeals court

WASHINGTON Fri Apr 6, 2012 7:48am EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) Convention in Washington, April 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) Convention in Washington, April 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. courts have authority to decide whether President Barack Obama's healthcare law is valid under the Constitution, his attorney general told a federal court on Thursday in a further bid to defuse a controversy Obama ignited earlier this week.

After Obama appeared to question the role of the courts in reviewing the two-year-old law, which seeks to expand healthcare coverage to 30 million-plus uninsured Americans, a conservative Texas judge on the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the administration to explain itself.

Attorney General Eric Holder told the appeals court in a three-page letter that the power of courts to review the laws "is beyond dispute" and that the administration has not sought to limit or reconsider that principle.

He argued that when courts do consider such challenges, precedent dictates that "Acts of Congress are 'presumptively constitutional'" and that the executive branch often urges courts to respect such laws passed by Congress.

"The president's remarks were consistent with the principles" described in the letter, Holder said.

Obama on Monday said he did not believe the Supreme Court would take the "unprecedented, extraordinary step" of overturning the 2010 law and questioned whether the court would be engaging in judicial activism if it indeed struck it down.

That drew swift criticism from conservatives who questioned whether he was trying to send a message to the justices and whether he understood that the courts did have a role in reviewing whether laws Congress passes are constitutional.

Obama, White House aides and administration officials have since tried to clarify and soften the tone, acknowledging that the courts have a responsibility to review such laws but insisting the president only meant the court has rarely struck down laws on national economic issues.

The president's initial remarks prompted Judge Jerry Smith of the 5th Circuit Court, an appointee of Republican President Ronald Reagan, to demand clarification about the courts' role in reviewing laws during separate arguments this week on the healthcare law, a rare courtroom response to outside remarks.

On Thursday, lawyers for hospitals challenging the healthcare law asked the appeals court for an opportunity to respond to Holder's letter, saying in a filing that it advanced the government's position in the case and warranted a response.

While unusual for a president to weigh in on a Supreme Court review after the arguments, academics have said that opponents of the healthcare law had been outspoken and Obama was within his rights to do the same.

"To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the president saying this. Why might the president do this? It is an election year," said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine law school. "If the court strikes down the law, this will be the message. He is getting it out now."

Randy Barnett, a Georgetown University law professor involved in the constitutional challenge to the healthcare law, declined to comment directly on Obama's remarks.

But as a general matter, he said, "It is wrong to accuse the Supreme Court of acting politically simply because some justices disagree with how you think the precedents apply to a case ... like this one."

To read the letter, click here: here

(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky and James Vicini; Additional reporting by Terry Baynes; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Paul Simao)

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Comments (15)
RoaringFish wrote:
Obama is right on the mark with this one, although he does phrase it poorly.

Lets stop pretending, shall we? We all know why this has ended up in the SC. Republicans know they can’t win the argument of whether Obamacare is a good idea or not, and they know they can’t win a majority backing for their views, so they shift it to an argument of whether it is ‘constitutional’ or not. Then they can send it to the SC *and rely on their appointees to rule along Republican political lines* to shove a minority opinion through.

This whole affair illustrates just how broken the USA has become. As well as having a judicial system so politicised that it can no longer be trusted, the adherence to a written constitution has reduced the USA to an effective theocracy with Republicans playing the role of religious fundamentalists. Look at the right-wing comments in a thread such as this one: http://www.reuters.com/article/comments/idUSBRE8310WP20120402 and replace ‘consyitution’ with ‘Q’ran’.

This is no longer a debate about the pros and cons of Obamacare, but a battle to see whose interpretation of the Constitution will prevail. This is not the way an advanced country should operate; this is the way 3rd world theocracies operate.

Apr 06, 2012 3:42am EDT  --  Report as abuse
justinolcb wrote:
The balance of justice requires the courts’ decisions, especially when the Congress enacts law that indeed is unconstitutional. This is and was the wisdom of our founding fathers. God Bless the United States of America.

Apr 06, 2012 6:12am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Velmaa1 wrote:
The balance of Justice does indeed requite the Court’s decisions if they find that laws enacted by congress are unconstitutional. Thus all decisions should be based on “rule of law”. This has not been true of this court. This court has ruled on laws that effect the people of this country, along political lines. This would indicate a problem with whether they are ruling based strictly on the constitution or political ideologies. The President is correct in stating that it is unprecedented for the Court to rule against a law that was legally passed in congress.

Apr 06, 2012 9:28am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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