White House press secretary Jay Carney addressed President Obama’s controversial comments on Monday regarding the Supreme Court, in which Obama questioned judicial review and suggested that the Court’s exercise of it with regard to Obamacare would be “unprecedented.”
And, naturally, he fibbed about it. “What he did was make an unremarkable observation about 80 years of Supreme Court history,” Carney said. This was a mischaracterization of drastic proportions, of course, and Carney was called on it. Carney was forced to redirect. “Since the 1930s the Supreme Court has without exception deferred to Congress when it comes to Congress’s authority to pass legislation to regulate matters of national economic importance such as health care, 80 years,” Carney explained. “He did not mean and did not suggest that … it would be unprecedented for the court to rule that a law was unconstitutional. That’s what the Supreme Court is there to do.”
The only problem with that re-characterization of Obama’s words is that it is a re-characterization. The Court has routinely placed limits on Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution (see, for example, Lopez and Morrison). So even under this new reading, Obama’s wrong. But that’s not what Obama was saying. His words were quite clear:
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.
That’s a principled stand, not a historical view. And no amount of revisionist history can change that.