Oral arguments do not determine or presage Supreme Court decisions, but the health care court proceeding has been a disaster for the Obama administration since the opening of oral arguments on March 27.
The administration and its supporters entered the case confident of the logic and persuasiveness of their arguments, if not the popularity of the legislation. But, the aggressiveness of questioning from conservative judges and the weakness of the government’s advocates shifted atmospherics against the administration.
Being thrown on the defense at the Supreme Court reverberated around the media and reminded commentators that political support among voters for the health care legislation was weak. In fact, most people, regardless of their support for the law, believed it was unconstitutional.
The President then compounded the administration’s problems with a high-profile media exchange where he appeared to try to drag the Court into the polarization that characterizes today’s political environment. His comments, which were quickly interpreted as threatening the Court’s independence, were accompanied by what many called misstatements of legal theory and political facts.
His performance was broadly panned, even among allied editorial pages and mainstream media outlets.
The Supreme Court is much better thought of than the presidency and Congress even though it receives considerable criticism from parties and various ideological and interest groups depending on which party controls the presidency and the particular court case. Abortion, affirmative action, criminal and terrorist rights, gay and gun rights, campaign financing, and the decision in Bush vs. Gore had major impact on attentive publics, but modest impact on broad public opinion.
· The Supreme Court has a 58 percent favorability (Pew 2012)
· A flood of polls from February and April confirm the public is closely divided on support for health care
· Also, the mandate is opposed and seen as unconstitutional