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June 28--Though America's body politic is obsessing over today's expected U.S. Supreme Court decision on the health care reform law, the court has already indicated a willingness to tackle contentious topics in a heated election year.
By striking down much of Arizona's strict immigration law just days earlier, the court answered a call for clarity on an issue that might yet affect the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.
Today's expected ruling on health care could have an even broader effect on the election's outcome, potentially energizing or deflating the forces gathered to overturn the law, or defend it.
It's a bold posture for the highest court in the land, an institution wrapped in the prudish culture of jurisprudence.
Legal culture tends to shrink from just the appearance of meddling in political matters.
In many states, including Pennsylvania, candidates for elected judicial offices are not allowed to directly solicit funds for their campaigns or make statements about cases or topics that might come before them.
So it's no surprise that some political activists on the left and right might perceive the court as being overly activist.
Last week, UCLA legal scholar Adam Winkler accused the court of being "anti-Obama" in a column on the online news outlet Huffington Post.
"No matter what happens with that [health care] law, it is clear already that the [Chief Justice John] Roberts Court is unusually hostile to the Obama administration," Winkler wrote. "This term, the justices have ruled against Obama in a remarkably high number of cases"
But rather than wading into the contemporary polarized political maelstrom by ruling on topics that could affect the presidency, most legal and political experts say the Supreme Court is simply doing it's job.
"The issues that get to the Supreme Court are by definition hot button issues that are hard to resolve" said Andrew Rudalevige, a political science professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle.
If the court was concerned about appearing political, Rudalevige added, it would have ruled on the cases after the presidential election and before the next president takes office. Instead, it rules on the case before it in a timely fashion.
"It certainly seems they're taking a bite out of something they didn't have to chew yet" he said. "I don't think this is a court that's shy about making a statement about political issues or wanting its voice heard."
Others say the court is not only doing its job, but doing it in an apolitical manor.
"I don't think [politics] factors into the court's decisions one way or the other," said Michael Foreman, a professor at Penn State Dickinson School of Law who argued a case before the Supreme Court in January.
"They're doing what the parties in the litigation asked them to do" Foreman added. "They're basically trying to clear out their docket by the end of June. It would have been more the exception to the rule if they hadn't.
Daryl Parks, president of the National Bar Association and a practicing attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., said the court operates from an ethical standard higher than Congress or even the president.
"That's why they're appointed for life, so that they're not part of the sway of the day that you see in normal politics", Parks said. "They recognize that the standard they're held to is far different from other people in government".
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