President Obama's recent characterization of a possible overturn of the ACA by the Supreme Court as "unprecedented" is symptomatic of an increasingly combative attitude between the three branches of government. It is not the first time the President has spoken out against the Court - he famously criticized the Citizens United decision in his 2010 State of the Union address. In addition, he regularly describes Republicans in Congress as "trying to impose a radical vision on our country," as in a recent speech.
Mr. Obama's comment on the Supreme Court is clearly rife with inaccuracy - more than ample precedent exists for voiding unconstitutional laws, and 219-212 is hardly a "strong majority." However, Mr. Obama's goal was likely an attempt to limit political fallout should the Court decide against him, rather than rigorous legal accuracy. As Tom Goldstein, a veteran Supreme Court attorney, noted, "The administration seems to be positioning itself to be able to run against the Supreme Court if it needs or wants to."
In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell encouraged Mr. Obama to "back off" and "let the Court do its work." Conservative analysts, such as the Heritage Foundation, focused on picking apart the semantics of the President's statement. Perhaps most significantly, a 3-judge panel on the 5th Circuit requested a three-page explanation of the administration's position from the Department of Justice.
Attorney General Eric Holder quickly complied with the 5th Circuit, but held that judicial review should only be exercised in "appropriate cases." Other supporters of the President backtracked still less. Liberal legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin strongly asserted his belief that there was no error in Mr. Obama's statement, criticized the 5th Circuit's demand, and even called some Republican judges "deranged." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, on the other hand, defended Mr. Obama's position as being misunderstood since it was conveyed in legal "shorthand."
The significance of these varied responses is that nearly all of them dealt with political goals, not substantive policy concerns. Politicians and analysts from both sides of the isle quickly seized on this opportunity to make harsh criticisms of their political opponents. The discussion devolved into name-calling and lost sight of the Constitutional complexity of the Supreme Court's consideration of the Commerce Clause. The branches of the government should be distinctly separate and equal in order to guarantee appropriate conduct from each, but do not necessarily need to constantly work at cross purposes to one another.
Regardless of one's views on the utility of congressional gridlock, the introduction of that highly combative, politicized atmosphere to the nation's highest court is inappropriate and dangerous. In order to ensure to the appropriate functioning of the Supreme Court, the justices' decisions must ultimately be subject only to the Constitution, not to the political pressures of the legislature, the administration, and the 24-hour news cycle.