Obama’s selective memory of Supreme Court history

By Josh Hicks, Published: April 8 | Updated: Monday, April 9, 6:02 AM

“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. And I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is, 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.”

— President Obama, discussing the pending U.S. Supreme Court decision over his health care law, April 2, 2012

“Let me be very specific. We have not seen a Court overturn a law that was passed by Congress on an economic issue, like health care, that I think most people would clearly consider commerce — a law like that has not been overturned at least since Lochner. Right? So we’re going back to the ‘30s, pre-New Deal.

“And the point I was making is that the Supreme Court is the final say on our Constitution and our laws, and all of us have to respect it, but it’s precisely because of that extraordinary power that the Court has traditionally exercised significant restraint and deference to our duly elected legislature, our Congress. And so the burden is on those who would overturn a law like this.”

— Obama, clarifying comments he made the previous day, April 3


The Facts

We took the liberty of re-phrasing the president’s initial remarks to get at his overarching message. We removed the word “unprecedented,” since Obama walked that back, and we inserted the word “economic” before “law,” since the president added that distinction in his follow-up. We kept the word “extraordinary” and the part about judicial activism, since Obama never backed away from any of that.

Here’s how the original comments would read in light of the president’s clarifying remarks:

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