The President’s Warning

It’s been almost a week and I keep reading about the president’s unprecedented warning to the Supreme Court.

Copied from Real Clear Politics, here’s what the president said in response to a question about health care and the Supreme Court:

With respect to health care, I’m actually — continue to be confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law. And the reason is because, in accordance with precedent out there, it’s constitutional. That’s not just my opinion, by the way; that’s the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices that said this wasn’t even a close case.

I think it’s important — because I watched some of the commentary last week — to remind people that this is not an abstract argument. People’s lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the inaffordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of preexisting conditions.

The law that’s already in place has already given 2.5 million young people health care that wouldn’t otherwise have it. There are tens of thousands of adults with preexisting conditions who have health care right now because of this law. Parents don’t have to worry about their children not being able to get health care because they can’t be prevented from getting health care as a consequence of a preexisting condition. That’s part of this law.

Millions of seniors are paying less for prescription drugs because of this law. Americans all across the country have greater rights and protections with respect to their insurance companies and are getting preventive care because of this law.

So that’s just the part that’s already been implemented. That doesn’t even speak to the 30 million people who stand to gain coverage once it’s fully implemented in 2014.

And I think it’s important, and I think the American people understand, and the I think the justices should understand, that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care. So there’s not only a economic element to this, and a legal element to this, but there’s a human element to this. And I hope that’s not forgotten in this political debate.

Ultimately, I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint — that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I’m pretty confident that this Court will recognize that and not take that step.

I’ve read this a few times but I keep missing the big warning.

Of course a warning can be implied, like a boss telling an employee, “I’m confident you’re not going to use the company car for personal business”. But unlike the boss and his employee, Obama can’t fire the Supreme Court. He can’t get Congress to fire them and can’t get the American People to fire them. There is nobody in the world with better job security than a Supreme Court justice, and few who are as unaccountable for their decisions.

So I can’t figure out what hundreds of Right wing politicians, reporters, pundits, and bloggers have in their heads whey they accuse President Obama of “warning” or “trying to intimidate” the Supreme Court.

The president’s words are not unprecedented either. As the Daily Beast aptly points out:

In words echoed by Obama this week, Reagan reminded Americans that “in our democracy, it is the elected representatives of the people, not unelected judges, who make laws.” And Reagan warned what would happen if justices ignored that civics lesson: “If that happens,” he said, “the words of the documents that we think govern us will be just masks for the personal and capricious rule of a small elite.”

In those quotes, President Reagan was not referring to a specific ruling, but those words were still as much a description of the president’s expectations as Obama’s were.

President Obama did, by the way, correct his mistake about the precedence of the Supreme Court overturning congressional law, and explained that he was referring to laws concerning the commerce clause. Without that modification, the suggestion was absurd.

But despite that slip, there’s nothing unprecedented about a president stating how he expects the Supreme Court should act. His words were mild compared to some of those before him, and all this nonsense about the president’s warning is another dishonest effort to invent nefarious meanings hidden behind the president’s actual words.

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