President Barack Obama has shown a willingness to campaign against the U.S. Supreme Court if the justices strike down his 2010 health-care law. It’s a strategy that’s as risky as it is rare.
With the court months away from a ruling, Obama ratcheted up the political stakes this week by saying a decision to reject the law and its requirement that Americans get insurance would be “judicial activism” by “an unelected group of people.”
Taking on the court would mean fighting an institution that polls show is historically the most admired branch of government. That’s one reason no major party nominee has made the court a central issue since 1968, when Richard Nixon tapped into voters’ unease about rising crime by attacking the expansion of suspects’ rights under Chief Justice Earl Warren.
“The risk any president faces is that criticism of the Supreme Court can backfire,” said William G. Ross, a constitutional law professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, who has written about the role of judicial issues in presidential campaigns. “People can perceive it as unduly disrespectful of an institution that commands tremendous amounts of public respect.”