Holder: Obama comments on Supreme Court were "appropriate"

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention in Washington, Monday, April 2, 2012.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Obama administration said Wednesday it would comply with a request to formally lay out its beliefs on whether or not the courts have the right to strike down a federal law, following President Obama's comments earlier this week about the Supreme Court's review of the health care law.

"We'll respond appropriately" to the request, Department of Justice spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told CBS News on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder affirmed that the administration would agree to submit a three-page, single-spaced letter on the concept of judicial review by Thursday at noon, per a request by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Still, Holder defended the president's remarks as "appropriate."

"What the president said a couple days ago was appropriate," Holder told reporters in a Chicago press conference. "He indicated that we obviously respect decisions that - that courts make under our system of government... But courts are also fairly deferential when it comes to overturning statutes that the duly elected representatives of the people - Congress - pass."

The order appears to be in direct response to Mr. Obama's having said Monday that he was "confident" the court would 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" with regard to his health care law.

The Supreme Court has asserted the power to strike down laws it deems unconstitutional since 1803.

The president later clarified his remarks, suggesting he meant it would be "unprecedented" for the court to judge that the health care law exceeded Congress' power to regulate an economic issue like health care.

"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," Mr. Obama said.

But while hearing a separate challenge relating to the health care law Tuesday, Judge Jerry Smith argued the president's comments "have troubled a number of people," and demanded clarification on the administration's position.

"I would like to have from you by noon on Thursday -- that's about 48 hours from now -- a letter stating what is the position of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, in regard to the recent statements by the president," Smith said. "What is the authority is of the federal courts in this regard in terms of judicial review?"

In his daily press briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated that "of course" federal courts have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of law passed by Congress, and that the president was merely making "an unremarkable observation about the 80 years of Supreme Court history."

According to Carney, Mr. Obama's comments reflected "the fact that since the Lochner era of the Supreme Court, 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."

"That is an observation and not a particularly remarkable one," he said. "He's simply making an observation about precedent and the fact that he expects the court to adhere to that precedent."