FactCheck.org : Obama Eats His Words
Home • The FactCheck Wire • Obama Eats His Words
Obama Eats His Words
Posted on April 4, 2012
President Obama is being forced to modify his absurdly wrong claim that it would be “unprecedented” for the Supreme Court to strike down the new health care law.
He made that statement April 2 in a news conference:
Obama, April 2: 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.
As any number of others were quick to point out, there is ample precedent for the Supreme Court voiding laws passed by Congress. In fact, overturning unconstitutional laws has been part of the Supreme Court’s job description for more than two centuries.
And the health care law wasn’t passed by a “strong” majority, either. In the House, the final vote was 219 to 212, with all Republicans and even 34 Democrats voting in opposition.
The first precedent for overturning a law — as many high-school civics classes teach — was in 1803 when the high court declared a portion of the Judiciary Act of 1789 to be unconstitutional. That was the landmark case of Marbury v. Madison. Chief Justice John Marshall declared for the court that judges must decide what the law is, and must be guided by the principle that the Constitution overrides any act of the legislature.
Marbury v. Madison (5 U.S. 137): It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. … If, then, the Courts are to regard the Constitution, and the Constitution is superior to any ordinary act of the Legislature, the Constitution, and not such ordinary act, must govern the case to which they both apply.
Surely the president knew that when he spoke; he was a senior lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago, after all. And as recently as January 2010, the president complained in his State of the Union Address about a much more recent precedent. In his words, “the Supreme Court reversed a century of law” through its decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, holding that the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or oppose candidates in elections.