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Jay Carney: Obama didn’t intend to challenge Supreme Court’s authority

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Jay Carney. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, defended President Obama's stern comments on the Supreme Court, arguing Wednesday during a heated spat with reporters that the president did not intend to imply the court lacks the authority to overrule the law commonly known as Obamacare.

"He certainly was not contendingthat the Supreme Court doesn't have as its right and responsibility the ability to overturn laws passed by Congress as unconstitutional," Carney said during Wednesday's White House briefing. "He was referring to 85 years of judicial precedent, of Supreme Court precedent, with regard to matters like the one under consideration. And it's maybe fun to pretend he meant otherwise, but everyone here knows that that's what he meant."

Carney later added that what the president said was "the reverse of intimidation."

Reporters pressed Carney to admit that the president did suggest a decision to overrule would be "unprecedented," but Carney would not relent, repeating that that was not the president's intent.

"He was a law professor," Carney reminded the press corps.

Obama, during a press conference Monday at the White House, compared the Supreme Court's rejection of his health care law to "judicial activism" and blasted a potential decision to overrule:

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. 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 restraintthat an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.

Those comments prompted critics to accuse the president of bullying the nation's highest court. One of those critics was 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Smith, who joined with two other judges on Tuesday to ask the Justice Department to issue a three-page, single-spaced letter affirming the federal court's authority to rule on the case.

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Following Smith's request, Attorney General Eric Holder publicly defended the president, saying during a press conference Wednesday that Obama's comments were "appropriate."

Holder said the Justice Department would "respond appropriately" to the 5th Circuit.

Republicans on Wednesday were highlighting a FactCheck.org report that the president is "absurdly wrong" to claim that it would be "unprecedented" for the Supreme Court to strike down his health care law.

"There is ample precedent for the Supreme Court voiding laws passed by Congress. In fact, overturning unconstitutional laws has been part of the Supreme Court's job description for more than two centuries," wrote FactCheck.org.

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