California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Thomas Criticizes Other Justices for Questioning During Reform Law Case

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Thursday defended his silence and criticized his fellow justices for speaking too much during the recent oral arguments in the case against the federal health reform law, The Hill's "Blog Briefing Room" reports.

Thomas has not asked a single question during oral arguments since 2006. No other justice has gone a single year without asking a question.

During a panel discussion at the University of Kentucky, Thomas said that the numerous questions from his fellow justices during the health reform oral arguments were not unusual but that they were unproductive (Sink, "Blog Briefing Room," The Hill, 4/6). "I don't see where that advances anything," Thomas said, adding, "We have a lifetime to go back in chambers and to argue with each other. They have 30, 40 minutes per side for cases that are important to them and to the country" (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 4/6).

Starr Criticizes Obama's Comments

Former special prosecutor Ken Starr criticized President Obama for his recent comments regarding the Supreme Court's possible ruling on the federal health reform law, National Journal reports (Jaffe, National Journal, 4/8).

Obama last week said it would be an "unprecedented, extraordinary step" for the "unelected" justices to overturn the overhaul (California Healthline, 4/3). Obama later softened his stance, saying that he is "confident that this law will be upheld because it should be upheld" (California Healthline, 4/4).

In an interview on CNN's "State of the Union," Starr called the comments "injudicious" and said it was "unfortunate" for Obama to be "politicizing the process, especially when the decision is now under consideration by the Court." Starr said that political concerns could influence the justices' decisions but that "at their best, they're independent" (National Journal, 4/8).

Legal Scholars Say Obama's Comments Not Unusual

According to several legal experts, presidents from both parties have a history of commenting on the Supreme Court's role, National Journal reports.

Jeff Shesol, a speechwriter for the Clinton administration, said that President Reagan often spoke about "the need for unelected judges to respect the wishes of the elected branches of government."

Meanwhile, other observers have noted the similarity between Obama's comments and the long-running clash between President Franklin Roosevelt over what Roosevelt thought was the high court unnecessarily blocking New Deal legislation. However, Roosevelt went further than Obama, suggesting that he could fill the court with his own appointees or limit the high court's constitutional powers.

Shesol said, "It takes a highly developed sense of irony to come out and attack President Obama for saying what he did this week." Still, Shesol warned Obama against campaigning against the Supreme Court, calling it "dangerous business" (McCarthy, National Journal, 4/6).

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