President Obama softened his rhetoric Tuesday about the possibility of a Supreme Court decision striking down his healthcare reform law, after Republicans accused him of “threatening” the high court.
Obama said Monday that a ruling against the healthcare law would show a “lack of judicial restraint.” Republicans quickly accused the president of trying to intimidate the court.
“The point I was making is that the Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution, and all of us have to respect it,” he said. “But it’s precisely because of that extraordinary power that the court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to a duly elected legislature.”
Republicans also mocked Obama for saying Monday that a decision striking down the healthcare law, or its requirement that almost everyone buy health insurance, would be “unprecedented.” The Supreme Court frequently overturns federal laws, they noted.
Obama said Tuesday that striking the healthcare law would go a step further.
“We have not seen the court overturn a law that was passed by Congress on a economic issue like healthcare, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce — a law like that has not been overturned ... at least since the ’30s,” Obama said.
The healthcare case hinges on whether the individual insurance mandate is protected by Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce.
Obama is the first president since Franklin Roosevelt to campaign for reelection while facing the possibility that the Supreme Court might find his signature legislative achievement unconstitutional.
“The burden is on those who would overturn a law like this,” Obama said Tuesday.
The court heard three days of oral arguments about the healthcare mandate last week, and the justices’ questioning indicated that there’s a very good chance they could strike down the mandate — and perhaps the entire law.
Obama reiterated that he believes the mandate is constitutional and expects the court to uphold it. The White House is therefore “not spending a whole bunch of time” looking at alternatives in case the mandate falls, he said.
“I don’t anticipate the court striking this down,” he said. “I think they take their responsibilities seriously.”