It was the most controversial legislation the Democratic-majority Congress approved during the Democratic president’s first term.
Conservative Republicans slammed it as “socialism.” They claimed the measure was a dire threat to the free market.
Almost two years after it passed, the act ended up in a conservative-tilting Supreme Court.
The year was 1935. The legislation facing the judicial axe was the Depression-era National Industrial Recovery Act. Passed in 1933, the bill created the National Recovery Administration, the most ambitious federal attempt at centralized economic planning in peacetime.
The high court said the measure was unconstitutional.
Today, tea party-hugging Republicans are crossing their fingers that the current right-leaning court will strike down the Affordable Care Act of 2010, President Barack Obama’s most important legislative success.
Likewise, the NRA was a centerpiece of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “First New Deal” of 1933. Republicans of the persuasion FDR called "economic royalists" hoped that the demise of the NRA would help make him a one-term president.
The current GOP hopes an anti-Obama ruling will damage the president’s prestige to the point that he will lose on Nov. 6. The big question: Will the quintet of conservative justices appointed by conservative Republican presidents hand the GOP a big win? After all, in the 2010 Citizens United case, the faithful five opened the floodgates for so-called super PACS to lavish millions of dollars on candidates, with most of the most of the dough going to Republicans.
From the start of Obama’s presidency, the Republicans have made beating Obama in 2012 their top priority. They have a simple strategy: If he’s for it, we’re against it and vice-versa.
Compromise equals surrender in the GOP of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. But what about the GOP justices?
Some pundits think the Republican appointees will, about June, shoot down all of the law or at least that part of it that makes almost everybody buy health insurance or pay a fine. The GOP calls this "individual insurance mandate," you guessed it, "socialism."
But the Washington Post’s N.C. Aizenman reminds us that the Republicans were for the idea before they were against it:
“The individual insurance mandate… was the brainchild of conservative economists and embraced by some of the nation’s most prominent Republicans for nearly two decades. Yet today many of those champions — including presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — are among the mandate’s most vocal critics.”
Aizenman adds that while even the devoutest Democrats came to support the individual mandate, “one of the last holdouts was the man whose political fate is now most closely intertwined with the mandate: President Obama.”
When the Democrats and Obama embraced the individual mandate, however reluctantly, the Republicans did a quick 180. They likened it to Uncle Sam making us buy broccoli. During oral arguments over the Affordable Care Act, some of the GOP justices used some familiar tea party and right-wing Republican slogans -- including the broccoli bit -- in their thrusts and parries with the president's legal eagle.
I was taught in high school government class that the high court was supposed to be above partisan politics. When the justices donned their somber black robes, their first loyalty became defending the constitution, not parroting the party line of the presidents who named them to the bench, or so the teacher and the textbook said.
But last January, when both sides in the Affordable Care Act case filed opening briefs with the high court, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll revealed that 75 percent of Americans queried believe "Supreme Court Justices let their own ideological views influence their decisions." A Gallup Poll taken in October has the high court’s approval rating sagging to 46 percent.
The Supreme Court may indeed rule 5-4 (the same split as in Citizens United) that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. But John and Jane Q Citizen's decidedly low opinion of the court these days suggest that such a ruling might not have much of a negative impact on Obama's chances on Nov. 6.
It might even help him. I am hearing it argued -- and not just by Democrats -- that if the GOP justices gang up to turn thumbs down on the Affordable Care Act, it might even boost the president by firing up the Democratic faithful and convincing more than a few independents that the high court of Citizens United really is a lapdog for Congressional Republicans and not a watchdog for the constitution.
History might be on Obama's side, too. FDR won big again in 1936 (and 1940 and 1944).
Okay, Obama is no FDR, not yet anyway. But I’d bet the farm that Obama's political future rides more on the economy and gas prices than on what a majority of Supreme Court justices think of the law the GOP pans (and now the Democrats praise) as "Obamacare.”