Sen. Lee, son of top Reagan official, learned early lessons from Harry Reid

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said it took him until he was 30 before he realized that discussing constitutional law at the dinner table wasn’t normal.

His father was solicitor general for President Ronald Reagan and Lee often attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court as a child.

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“I started going to the Supreme Court and watching my dad argue cases there when I was about 10 years old and eventually I saw it as just a really good way to get out of school,” Lee said. “It was a little like attending church in a foreign language. You had to sit still, you had to be quiet, but over time I began to see patterns developing and [was] able to understand more and developed a real strong interest in the law.”

Following that interest in constitutional law, Lee served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in 2006.

This spring Lee attended the Supreme Court arguments on the Affordable Care Act. The much-anticipated ruling is expected in June.

Lee believes that President Obama’s signature legislative achievement will be voided by the court.

“Among the cases that have been expected to be close — have been expected to be decided by a 5-to-4 decision — I can’t think of another case that I’ve seen argued ever where I had a stronger impression at the end of the argument which way the court was likely going to rule. At the end of the arguments I was strongly of the opinion that the Supreme Court was going to invalidate the Affordable Care Act.”

Lee said he believes Congress overstepped its authority in the Commerce Clause by issuing the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or face penalties. He also said he doesn’t think the law can stand on its own if the mandate is repealed.

“I did not expect to see as much skepticism as I did from the court on the question of severability,” Lee said. “If I’m right, that the court is going to invalidate the individual mandate, I think it is most likely that the court will conclude that you cannot sever the individual mandate from the rest of the act.”

Lee said Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia commented during the arguments that the individual mandate was the heart of the healthcare bill.

“The individual mandate is the heart of the overall bill and you can’t take the heart out of the organic whole that is the Affordable Care Act and expect it to survive and be able to operate as a free standing piece of legislation,” Lee said. “It won’t work.”

Lee said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court has become politicized but he did recognize that there are inherent ideological differences among court members that largely reflect the affiliations of the presidents who appointed them. Four justices were appointed by Democrats and five by Republicans.

“If you’ve got five members of the court that are likely to say that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, I don’t think that what they’re focusing on is that this will really be good for the Republican Party,” Lee said. “It might reflect their view of the proper role of the federal government — but that is not really a political analysis as much as it’s a legal and constitutional analysis that might get them there.”

Lee knows a thing or two about the depths of some differences on political issues. One of his closest friends growing up was Josh Reid — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) son.

“I learned very quickly that it wasn’t a good idea for me to issue gushing praise of Ronald Reagan and his policies around the Reid family; that they did not agree with me politically and probably never would,” Lee said. “Initially I would try to argue with them but then I’d discover that they were intractable differences of opinion. Whenever we discussed politics we’d have to find a way to joke about it because we were never going to agree.”

When his father served in the Reagan administration, Lee lived in McLean, Va., from ages 10 through 15. The Reids also lived in McLean during that time.

“Sen. Reid’s son Josh has been a very good friend of mine ever since they moved into our area when I was in 6th grade. We’re still friends, we still keep in touch,” Lee said. “We saw them in church but I also saw Josh Reid, my friend, almost every day. I spent a ton of time at their house, swam in their pool.”

Lee said that in the Mormon faith every family is assigned someone in the congregation to regularly visit their house and to offer a brief lesson or scripture.

“Harry Reid was assigned to be our home teacher, so we had him in our home usually about once a month,” Lee said. “I really like him and his family. We don’t agree on everything, to say the least, but we get along well on a personal basis.”