Responding to a judge's request, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday acknowledging that it is within the judicial branch's power to review the constitutionality of acts of Congress.
"The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute," Holder wrote, although he noted, "The Supreme Court has further explained that this power may only be exercised in appropriate cases."
The letter from Holder comes after Judge Jerry Smith took issue with President Barack Obama's recent remarks suggesting that it would be "an unprecedented, extraordinary step" for the Supreme Court to overturn the healthcare reform law.
Smith, a Reagan appointee, demanded that the Justice Department explain the president's comments during oral arguments in a case related to the healthcare law.
During intense questioning of a Justice Department lawyer on Tuesday, Smith claimed that Obama's remarks troubled a number of people who saw the comments as a challenge to the authority of the federal courts and the concept of judicial review.
In the letter responding to Smith's request, Holder said, "The longstanding, historical position of the United States regarding judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation has not changed and was accurately stated by counsel for the government at oral argument in this case a few days ago."
"The Department has not in this litigation, nor in any other litigation of which I am aware, ever asked this or any other Court to reconsider or limit long-established precedent concerning judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation," he added.
Along with Smith, a number of Republican lawmakers have also cried foul over Obama's assertion that overturning the healthcare reform law would be an example of "judicial activism."
Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, accused the president of living in a "fantasy world," claiming that more than two-thirds of Americans agree that the individual mandate in the healthcare law is unconstitutional.
"It must be nice living in a fantasy world where every law you like is constitutional and every Supreme Court decision you don't is 'activist,'" Hatch said in a statement.
He added, "Judicial activism or restraint is not measured by which side wins but by whether the Court correctly applied the law."
The remarks from Obama were seen as somewhat of a political role reversal, as Republicans often accuse courts of "judicial activism" in cases regarding issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion.
Last week, the Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments regarding the healthcare reform law, with a number of observers saying that the Justices appeared skeptical regarding the constitutionality of the requirement that almost all Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 or face a fine.
Supporters of the individual mandate say it is necessary to spread health care costs among a larger pool of taxpayers and that it differs from other products and services because those without insurance are raising costs for other taxpayers.
A ruling from the Supreme Court is not expected in the immediate future and could happen anytime before the court adjourns in late June.
by RTT Staff Writer
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