Justice Dept. responds to judicial query, defends Obama comments on high court

The Justice Department shot back Thursday against a federal court’s suggestion that President Obama doesn’t recognize the role of the judicial branch.

Three judges on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Justice Department to file a three-page letter outlining its view of the courts’ powers — a response to comments in which Obama said it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to overturn his healthcare law.

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Obama’s remarks were “fully consistent” with well-established legal principles, the Justice Department said Thursday in its response to the 5th Circuit.

“The department has not in this litigation, nor in any other litigation of which I am aware, ever asked this or any other court to reconsider or limit long-established precedent concerning judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation,” Attorney General Eric Holder wrote.

There is nothing unprecedented about federal courts overturning federal laws, but the White House says the courts have historically deferred to Congress and the president on how to regulate the economy. Striking down a law with such enormous economic implications would indeed be unprecedented, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

The Justice Department’s letter outlines basically the same argument. The courts’ power to review federal laws is “beyond dispute,” Attorney General Eric Holder wrote, but “the Supreme Court has often acknowledged the appropriateness of reliance on the political branches' policy choices and judgment.”

Holder also noted that the 5th Circuit is hearing an unrelated case in which government attorneys had acknowledged the principle of judicial review.

“The longstanding, historical position of the United States regarding judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation has not changed and was accurately stated by counsel for the government at oral argument in this case a few days ago,” he wrote.