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Obama jeopardized non-partisan Supreme Court

John Sandberg | Wednesday, April 11, 2012

It’s no secret that the line separating the federal judiciary from the executive is blurry at best. When a partisan president is given the authority to nominate justices to the Supreme Court, the supposedly non-partisan nature of the Court is inevitably jeopardized. Washington will never be able to take the politics completely out of the judiciary. However, the degree to which politics affects the judiciary certainly can be controlled.

President Obama’s remarks this week show a careless and outright attempt to influence a ruling of the Court, which is cause for concern not only among opponents of the health care law, but among all who hold proper respect for the separation of powers.

The issue arose on Monday at a press conference being held with the Mexican president and Canadian prime minister. Asked about the possibility of the Supreme Court deciding that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, President Obama responded that he was “confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the law,” citing his own reasoning and the opinion “of legal experts across the ideological spectrum…” as his rationale.

Had the President finished here and gone on to the next question, there would not have been a problem. He continued, though, saying how for years the biggest problem in the judiciary over the years has been judicial activism. He ultimately finished the lengthy response by criticizing the idea that “an ‘unelected’ group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

With oral arguments on the health care law all wrapped up, the only thing left is to wait for a decision to be handed down in June. It would have been wise for President Obama to pivot to the topic of international diplomacy that was at hand, or at the very least, give a brief answer and leave it at that. Warnings on judicial activism and the susceptibility of an “‘unelected’ group of people” to make the wrong decision were uncalled for.

Students of American government at the most basic levels will be able to tell that judges are not elected for the very reason that it keeps them independent from the other branches of government, allowing them to do their duty without letting reelection prospects influence their judgments. The President’s use of the term “unelected” in a critical manner just does not make sense. President Obama clarified Tuesday that the Supreme Court has the ultimate say on our laws and “all of us have to respect it,” but it’s that extraordinary power which has led the Court to show restraint in the past.

Again, the President’s remarks reinforced how unnecessary it is for him to be meddling in this issue at all. Americans do not need to be reminded that the Supreme Court has the final say on our laws and that this is a remarkable power. Addressing the Supreme Court’s decision on health care this week was a purely political move intended to sway the decision in his favor.

On a wide range of issues in the past President Obama has made himself appear as the “only adult in the room,” the most calculated voice in an environment full of screaming heads. This stems in part from his personality, but also from the nature of his office. However, his recent remarks on the Supreme Court’s handling of health care compromised this image. The adult in the room would have shown proper respect for the authority of the Supreme Court. The temptation to use his office to go public and try to affect the Court’s opinion, rather than let it do its job uninfluenced, shows how President Obama can resort to playing the same partisan games which he so often accuses his counterparts of doing.

Many times I feel right-wing conservative critics are unfair in their criticisms of the President. This is not one of those times. Such a clear attempted violation of the separation of powers cannot be tolerated and it is right for critics to criticize him.

In a federal government full of gray areas, it is indeed noteworthy when an actor blatantly oversteps his boundaries. Yet this is exactly what President Obama did on Monday, and it has not gone unnoticed by Americans who appreciate the foundational principle of separation of powers.

John Sandberg is a sophomore English major. He can be reached at

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.