- Sen. Patrick Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee
- He's urging the Supreme Court to uphold constitutionality of health care reform
- Leahy on John Roberts: "I trust that he will be a chief justice for all of us"
- Supreme Court ruling on Affordable Care Act is expected in late June
A leading senator is urging the Supreme Court to "do the right thing" and uphold the constitutionality of the sweeping health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
In a floor speech Monday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, directly addressed Chief Justice John Roberts, urging him in a sharply partisan tone to keep the law, passed in 2010, in place.
"I trust that he will be a chief justice for all of us and that he has a strong institutional sense of the proper role of the judicial branch," said Leahy. "The conservative activism of recent years has not been good for the court. Given the ideological challenge to the Affordable Care Act and the extensive, supportive precedent, it would be extraordinary for the Supreme Court not to defer to Congress in this matter that so clearly affects interstate commerce."
It is unusual for a member of Congress to tell the high court how it should vote on a case during the weeks that the justices are crafting their opinion. Oral arguments were held in late March, and the court has been quietly working behind the scenes. An opinion is expected by late June. The Vermont Democrat attended the three-day oral arguments at the Supreme Court.
Leahy offered tepid praise for Robert's leadership but was critical of the chief justice's fellow conservative benchmates.
"I was struck by how little respect some of the justices showed to Congress, and of how dismissive they were of the months of work in hearings and committee actions and debate of amendments and motions and points of order on the Senate and House floors before the measure was enacted."
Leahy was also tough on his GOP colleagues.
He pointed out that Republican opponents lost in Congress in 2008, saying that helped lead to passage of the ACA two years later with the strong backing of Obama.
"Now they want conservative activists on the Supreme Court to intervene and turn their policy disagreements into law by reading them into the Constitution. That is wrong."
The chairman gave no direct indication whether he thought the law was in danger of being overturned by the court, which has 5-4 conservative majority.
The high court is certain to have no response to the statements of Leahy or any other lawmaker.
The court will next be heard on the health care law when a ruling is issued, the timing of which will not be announced in advance.