Elections 2012: Supreme Court Moves to Center of Presidential Race

The Supreme Court is preparing its rulings on health care and immigration.

The Supreme Court already has played a huge and direct role in U.S. presidential politics. Photo: OZinOH/Flickr

The Supreme Court, that has suddenly appeared at the heart of presidential politics, is preparing what could be blockbuster rulings on health care and immigration shortly before the fall election, reports The Huff Post.

The court, sharply divided between four conservatives, four liberals and one conservative-leaning swing justice, is already regarded as being nearly as partisan as Congress.

It is throwing a new element of uncertainty into the campaign taking shape between President Barack Obama and the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, tells Yahoo!.

The Court has already played a great role in U.S. presidential politics. Its 5-4 ruling in Bush v. Gore settled the bitter 2000 contest by barring a Florida ballot recount, which Democrats hoped would prevent George W. Bush’s election.

By holding well-publicized hearings on the health care and immigration cases the Supreme Court is stirring passions on key issues in this year’s elections.

President Obama sometimes seems to be running against the court, or at least its conservative members. However, it is unclear whether that will sway voters in November.

A great number of court-watchers expect the justices to throw out most or all of the health law, which Republicans derisively call “Obamacare.” At the same time, Mitt Romney may be poorly positioned to exploit such a ruling.

“I don’t think the Romney campaign will want to make health care a major issue,” said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway. “Every time Romney criticizes the president’s health care reform, he opens himself up to the Etch A Sketch attack.”

Republican strategist Terry Holt said a court decision overturning the health care law would be an unmistakable setback for Obama. “It repudiates the singular achievement of this administration,” Holt said.

In the immigration case, the Obama administration opposes Arizona’s law that requires police check the legal status of people they stop for other reasons.

Many court analysts predict the justices will uphold parts of the Arizona law but may overturn others.

“This could prove problematic for Romney,” said Republican consultant John Feehery, because it would pit his conservative base against much-needed Hispanic voters in targeted states.

“If Romney handles it right, by largely ignoring it, it could take out a major source of irritation for Hispanics and maybe help a portion of them see the good side of Romney,” Feehery said.

According to NY Daily News, the justices strongly suggested Wednesday that they are ready to let Arizona enforce the most controversial part of its law, a requirement that police officers check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

“I think you’ll see more involvement by local police in immigration enforcement, an involvement that hadn’t previously been seen,” Kevin Johnson, law school dean at the University of California-Davis and an expert in immigration law, said of the possibility of Arizona’s law being upheld.

Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, delivered this month what some considered a misleading warning to the court regarding the health care law.

“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,” the president said.

“And I’d just remind conservative commentators that 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. Well, this is a good example,” he said.

The truth at the Supreme Court is that those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know. According to Reuters, the justices take their votes in secret, they go around the table in order of seniority, with no clerks or secretaries present.

Draft opinions are closely held in chambers. Discarded versions are burned or shredded. The clerk’s office does not know the outcome of a case until a decision is about to be released. And the release date is not set until all the writing and rewriting by the majority and dissent is done.

it means that now comes the nationwide angst of waiting – as long as two months – for decisions, particularly the one that will resolve the most high-stakes and closely watched case of the year: the challenge to the Obama-sponsored healthcare law.

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