Obama’s Swipe at the Supreme Court
Since holding hearings last week on the 2010 health-care law, the US Supreme Court has come under sharp criticism from Democrats, most notably the president. On Monday, President Obama warned the justices not to overturn his signature achievement in Congress because, as he put it, the court is “an unelected group of people.”
As a former constitutional professor, Mr. Obama should know that members of the high court are approved by elected representatives. Most of all, they are tasked to act as both guardian and interpreter of the guiding principles embedded in the Constitution.
And for more than 200 years, that difficult job has often included overturning laws - some popular, some not.
Most democracies have learned they need a body of independent and intelligent persons, often lawyers, to keep a check on majority rule and to define limits on government power. For that reason, these justices are treated like earthly representatives of higher virtues - thus they are cloaked in robes, sitting on high, working in secret, appointed for life, and otherwise shrouded in mystique.
To give the impression of impersonal justice, Supreme Court justices in the United States don’t allow cameras in the courtroom. They don’t seem to care that most Americans can’t name a single justice. They rarely speak in public.
Not for themselves but for the Constitution and the court, Supreme Court justices try to command respect and cultivate credibility. They rely on previous decisions to bring stability to justice and find a balance between competing interests and values.
Their power to check legislative or executive powers can be troubling at times - to both Democrats and Republicans. Many presidents have tried to sway the court, even drag it down into partisan politics and give it warnings.
The republic’s Founders were also torn about granting so much power to one body.