WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama offered his first public comments on the Supreme Court's hearing of his signature health care law, telling reporters that he believed the court will rule that it is constitutional.
Appearing at a press conference in the Rose Garden alongside Prime Minster Stephen Harper of Canada and President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, Obama explained that he was confident the Affordable Care Act would be upheld for a series of reasons. First and foremost, he made the case that precedent was on his side, noting that two staunchly conservative lower court justices had agreed that penalizing people who didn't purchase insurance coverage was within Congress' power under the commerce clause.
Secondly, the president underscored the issues that would arise from repealing the legislative components of the law that had already been implemented. He noted that millions of children have been given insurance coverage under the law, that changes have been made to Medicare's prescription drug program and that insurance industry reforms have already been put in place.
"This is not an abstract argument," he declared. "People's lives are affected by the lack of availability of health care, the in-affordability of health care, their inability to get health care because of pre-existing conditions ... I think the American people understand and I think that the justices should understand that in the absence of the individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with preexisting conditions can actually get health care."
"So there not only is an economic element to this, and a legal element to this, there is also a human element to this," he added.
The most forceful of the president's points was the third. Overturning the health care law, he argued, would resemble the very type of judicial activism that conservatives have routinely lamented. The Affordable Care Act passed both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by the president. To ignore such a definitive legislative stamp of approval would be a form of judicial overreach, Obama argued.
"Ultimately I am 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," the president concluded. "And I just remind conservative commentators that for years what we have heard is that 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."
The president's defense of the law comes at a time when few others are confident in its future. The oral arguments from last week prompted intensely nervous reactions within Democratic circles and chatter that the White House had fumbled the legal case. The president's legal team could have tried to move the ruling till 2014, some argued, when the individual mandate goes into effect.
Top administration officials told reporters earlier on Monday that the president had read the transcripts of the oral argument. They could not confirm whether or not he had discussed the case with his Solicitor General. Those same officials, meanwhile, refused to discuss what type of plans are being made to replace the individual mandate should it be ruled unconstitutional and severable from the rest of the law.
The White House has said, previously, that there are no such plans in the works. But a top Democratic official, who spoke anonymously to discuss administration deliberations, confirmed that the health care team has discussed what type of policies could compel insurance purchases while simultaneously passing a test of constitutionality, as defined by Chief Justice John Roberts.