President Obama on Monday issued a rare, direct challenge to the Supreme Court to uphold his historic health care overhaul, weighing in with a vigorous political appeal for judicial restraint. He warned that overturning the law would hurt millions of Americans and amount to overreach by the "unelected" court.
Obama predicted that a majority of justices would uphold the law when the ruling is announced in June. But the president, a former law professor, seemed intent on swaying uncertain views, both in the court of public opinion and in the minds of the justices, about not overstepping the high court's bounds.
"Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will 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," he said at a Rose Garden news conference.
The majority he referenced was not quite that strong; Congress approved the law two years ago in hard-fought party-line votes after a divisive national debate. Republican presidential contenders say they will make sure it is repealed if the Supreme Court doesn't throw it out first.
For a president to weigh in so forcefully about a case currently under deliberation by the Supreme Court is unusual, and it speaks to the stakes at hand.
The law is the signature domestic achievement of Obama's term and already a prominent source of debate in the presidential campaign. The Supreme Court will decide whether to strike down part or all of the law, including its centerpiece requirement that nearly all Americans carry insurance or pay a penalty.
On that core point, Obama seemed to send a message directly to the justices.
"I think the American people understand -- and I think the justices should understand -- that in the absence of an individual mandate, you cannot have a mechanism to ensure that people with pre-existing conditions get health care," Obama said.
"So there's not only an economic element to this and a legal element to this, but there's a human element to this. I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate."
Obama also made a broader case against his conservative Republican opponents by challenging them on a matter dear to them: stopping overreach by the courts.
"For years what we've heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law," he said.
"Well, this is a good example, and I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step."
Obama declined to answer what contingencies his administration might have in mind if the court does overturn the law.