With a five to four conservative majority on the bench, the Obama Administration may soon begin to sense more resistance from the justices of the Supreme Court against its progressive agenda.
The Court wrapped up its term last week with by reaffirming citizens’ right to keep and bear arms as protected in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Earlier this year, in another decision frowned upon by Democrats, the highest judicial body of the United States gave corporations the same campaign finance rights as ordinary Americans. For over sixty years, Congress and states had barred corporate and union spending to sway elections. The Court’s opinion struck down those laws as unconstitutional censorship.
The Democrats were appalled. They saw the ruling as a radical move aimed to tilt the political system in favor of big business just as they were working to reform the country’s financial system. President Barack Obama publicly criticized the decision during his first State of the Union address before Congress. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is still angered by what he regarded as a partisan insult to the independent judiciary.
The divide on campaign finance regulation is likely reflective of clashes to come. The administration may be waging a war on capitalism with efforts to restrict the business freedoms of banks, insurance companies and the energy industry; the Supreme Court will have the final word on those laws. With Robert in control, that may be setting the stage for dispute.
“Presidents with active agendas for change almost always encounter resistance in the courts,” said Stanford University law professor Michael W. McConnell, quoted in the Los Angeles Times. “It happened to Roosevelt and it happened to Reagan. It will likely happen to Obama too.”
The administration is already under attack in the courts. Attorneys general in so much as twenty states are fighting the health care bill, claiming that its mandate to buy health insurance oversteps Congress’ constitutional powers and tramples on states’ rights.
The president’s moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of BP’s oil spill last April has met a similar fate. A federal judge in New Orleans ruled that the president exceeded his authority with the measure. Citing potential harm to businesses and workers, Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the United States District Court opined that the administration had failed to justify the need for such “a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium” on oil and gas drilling. The White House immediately announced that it would appeal the ruling while Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised to issue a new order imposing a moratorium on deepwater drilling along with more detailed information to prove its necessity.
Lastly, the administration is feeling the heat on immigration reform since it announced its intention to block a controversial Arizona law which is due to take effect July 29. Republican governor Jan Brewer of Arizona says she will fight the challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court if need be.
It may well take another year or two before any challenge to the Obama Administration’s agenda reaches the highest court.
According to Professor McConnell, the administration’s broad set of regulatory moves made a clash almost inevitable. “It does not mean the courts are being political,” though. “It is the way the institutions are designed, to create checks and balances.”