Republicans are accusing President Obama of trying to "intimidate" the Supreme Court by wrongly suggesting a ruling against the health care overhaul would be "judicial activism."
Obama, during a joint press conference Monday with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, said he's "confident" the law will be upheld, but cautioned the "unelected" court against reaching any other conclusion. In doing so, Obama invoked what he described as conservative concerns about judicial activism.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, called it a "fantasy" to think "every law you like is constitutional and every Supreme Court decision you don't is 'activist.'"
"Judicial activism or restraint is not measured by which side wins but by whether the Court correctly applied the law," he said.
The president's challenge to the high court drew widespread attention, on the eve of the Republican presidential candidates' next round of primaries -- Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia are voting Tuesday. All the candidates oppose the health care law, though front-runner Mitt Romney has come under fire for his role in passing one with similar provisions while governor of Massachusetts.
Romney, who describes the federal law as an overreach, also slammed Obama for his Supreme Court comments on Tuesday.
Romney, in an interview on Fox News, said an activist court is one that "departs" from the Constitution and legislates from the bench. In this case, he said, the judges simply are weighing whether a law is constitutional.
"That will not be an activist court -- that will be a court following the Constitution," Romney said.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed.
"Nothing could be more appropriate for the Supreme Court to decide than whether a bill is constitutional or not," he told Fox News Radio.
Smith said he was "disappointed" by the president's remarks.
"It is not unprecedented at all for the Supreme Court to declare a law unconstitutional; they do that on a regular basis so it's not unprecedented at all," he said. "What is unprecedented is for the president of the United States trying to intimidate the Supreme Court."
The Supreme Court spent three days hearing arguments last week in four separate challenges to the health care law, which stands as the president's signature domestic policy accomplishment. A central challenge was over the individual mandate -- the requirement that Americans buy health insurance. Critics say the mandate is unconstitutional, and that the federal government cannot force people into the insurance marketplace.
Obama on Monday said that without such a mandate, the law would not have a mechanism to ensure those with preexisting conditions get health care. He said the law is constitutional.
"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," Obama 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. And I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step."