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editorial | Obama v. the Supreme Court

Better to take the high road

MAYBE BECAUSE every other constitutional professor in the country has been interviewed about last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on the health care overhaul, President Obama - himself a former professor - just couldn’t help himself.

His comments on the case, during a news conference with leaders from Mexico and Canada, were a pointed warning to the court that invalidating his signature piece of legislation would be an “unprecedented, extraordinary’’ act of judicial activism. Yet while Obama is right to worry about a waning sense of judicial restraint among the court’s most conservative members, he still should have taken the high road and left it to his lawyers to defend the law.

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Instead, he veered from talking about the legal foundations of the case to targeting the court itself. Obama even remarked that the justices are “unelected.’’ But the drafters of the Constitution intended it that way, as Obama knows.

Whatever the court decides will have political consequences for both parties. If the law stands, the president will be able to enter the general election with a solid victory for his domestic policy. If the law is struck down, further legislative and court battles await. In his comments, Obama seemed to be assuming the worst - and laying the foundation for his response to such a defeat.

But by taking on the court during the time between the contentious oral arguments and the ultimate decision, the president puts even more pressure on the court’s deliberative process. The Republicans have tried to ignore the benefits of the health care law by dismissing it as “Obamacare.’’ They have personalized it. Obama, unfortunately, did too.

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