Steve Chapman

Conservatives, of course, exhibit a strange new respect for judicial review, which they have often reviled for letting unelected elitists ride roughshod over prevailing public opinion. But that's no excuse for Obama to suggest that the court would be acting illegitimately in striking down his health care plan.

Some of his supporters think such a decision would demand stern remedies. Writing in The Daily Beast, University of Houston law professor David Dow urged the use of impeachment if the justices invalidate Obamacare.

This brings back memories of 1970, when House Republican leader Gerald Ford mounted an attempt to impeach liberal Justice William O. Douglas, whom he accused of, among other sins, assisting the "militant hippie-yippie movement."

The effort to remove a justice over allegedly wrong views was an embarrassing failure then and would be again. Congress is not about to use the nuclear option merely because the party in power disagrees with the Supreme Court.

The court has an obligation to use its best judgment to assess the meaning of each provision of the Constitution, a task that leaves plenty of room for disagreement. To pillory or punish judges for doing their job undermines the legitimacy not just of the court but of our entire constitutional system.

There is another way to respond when the court goes against your side: Win elections, appoint your justices and, over time, hope to win the intellectual battle over how to interpret the Constitution and the laws.

That's what conservatives set about doing a generation ago, and the result is a court dominated by GOP-appointed justices who take a different view of constitutional language. Obama and Co. may not like it, but that's exactly how our system is supposed to work.

If they don't like it, they can undertake the same task in hopes of turning the court in a more agreeable direction. No, it's not easy; no, it's not quick; no, it's not a sure thing. Who ever said it ought to be?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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