President Obama on Monday said he is confident the Supreme Court will uphold his healthcare reform law and warned a ruling against it would be an “unprecedented” act of judicial activism.
Speaking at a Rose Garden press conference alongside Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Obama weighed in for the first time on last week’s high court hearings, which left many Democrats fearful that the court is poised to strike down his signature domestic achievement.
“That’s not just my opinion, by the way,” Obama continued. “That’s the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices.”
The president said it would be “unprecedented” for the court to strike down the individual mandate to have insurance because the law was passed by “a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.”
Obama warned the high court against “a lack of judicial restraint,” in which “an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”
Beyond the judicial aspect, the president defended the individual mandate to have insurance, saying there’s a “human element” to the law, and that it’s the only way to provide healthcare to those with pre-existing conditions.
“This is not an abstract argument,” Obama said. “People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of healthcare.”
The president argued, “Americans all across the country are getting preventative care because of this law,” and that “doesn’t count the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage” in 2014.
Opponents of the healthcare law say the insurance mandate is a breathtaking expansion of federal power that is unsupported by the Constitution, and many of the Supreme Court justices appeared receptive to that argument last week. After the arguments ended, Republicans were optimistic that the healthcare reform law would be struck down, while Democrats warned against reading too much into the arguments.
During the press conference, a reporter asked Obama if he had a contingency plan in place if the healthcare law is struck down. The president did not answer the question directly, simply reiterating, “As I said, we’re confident that this will be upheld.
“I’m confident this will be upheld because it should be upheld,” he said. “Again, that’s not just my opinion. That’s the opinion of a whole lot of constitutional law professors, academics, judges and lawyers who examined this law, even if they’re not particularly sympathetic to this particular piece of legislation or my presidency.”
Some legal watchers panned Solicitor General Donald Verrilli’s presentation at the oral arguments last week, with CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin describing the Obama legal case as a “train wreck.” Obama did not speak about Verrilli’s performance before the high court last week, but White House officials have backed the solicitor general.
Verrilli “delivered a solid performance before the Supreme Court. That's a fact. We feel good about his performance,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last week.
Senate Democrats were also infuriated by comments Justice Antonin Scalia made during the hearings. Scalia mocked a provision of the bill that had been removed two years ago, and joked that the bill was too long to read.
Up until Monday, it was unclear what Obama himself was thinking about the Supreme Court case. Senior administration officials said on Monday that the president had read the transcripts of the proceedings and had followed news accounts.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the healthcare law in June.
At the press conference, Calderon also weighed in on the healthcare question, saying the United States should follow Mexico’s lead.
“Of the 120 million Mexicans, 160 million will have universal healthcare coverage,” Calderon said. “So I would say that I would hope that one of the greatest countries of the world, the United States, could follow our example in achieving this because it was a great thing.”
— This story was updated at 4 p.m.