NPR

Supreme Court Wades Into Presidential Politics Once Again

U.S. Supreme Court building, Sept. 2011. (AP)

The U.S. Supreme Court may get another chance to choose a president.

Ten years after Bush v. Gore when the court put an end to the Florida recount to end the disputed 2000 election in favor of President George W. Bush, the Supreme Court could prove to be a factor again in another White House contest.

With the high court's announcement Monday that it would decide on the constitutionality of the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act, we are assured of a decision coming smack dab in the middle of the 2012 general election campaign.

If the court upholds the law, especially with something larger than a 5-4 majority, that would obviously provide President Obama with a critical victory that would deflate his political opponents' main argument against the law, that it is unconstitutional.

And there's a chance that the court, even with its present conservative tilt, could decide just that. Two conservative federal jurists, U.S. judges Laurence Silberman and Jeffrey Sutton, have already ruled that the individual mandate is indeed constitutional.

Many legal experts believe that the two judges have provided the justices with a constitutionally sound path to upholding the law.

Of course, Tea Party activists and other conservatives could just accuse a Supreme Court majority that upholds the law of not understanding the Constitution as well as Tea Party activists do.

If the court strikes down the individual mandate, however, that would obviously be a boon for the eventual GOP presidential nominee and congressional Republicans.

The high court's imprimatur on the GOP's position would only enhance Republican attacks and his fellow Democrats against Obama as a usurper of states' rights. In a close race, as many expect the 2012 election could be, a decision for or against the law could prove decisive.

True, the fact that two conservative judges have already sided with the Obama administration could give the president some political cover during the campaign.

But the Supreme Court has the largest megaphone on questions of constitutionality and would likely drown out any argument by Obama that pointed to the disagreement among conservatives.

Whatever it ultimately decides, the Supreme Court's justices find themselves in a familiar position, having to decide a question of law that has vast political implications.

While the justices like to be seen as being above partisan politics, a 5-4 decision against the law that falls along strict partisan lines will certainly be viewed by many Americans as a politically motivated, just like Bush v. Gore.

That could hurt the court's reputation as the most trusted of the federal branches of government.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Most Popular