WASHINGTON (AP) - In a letter written at the request of a federal appellate judge, Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday offered assurances that the Obama administration respects the authority of the courts.
Appeals Court Judge Jerry Smith in Texas requested the letter after President Barack Obama said this week that it would be "unprecedented" for the Supreme Court to overturn a major law passed by Congress like the health care overhaul whose constitutionality it is now considering.
On Tuesday, saying he was seeking reassurances that the Justice Department recognizes judicial authority, Smith said he wanted a letter of at least three pages that makes specific references to the president's statements.
"The longstanding, historical position of the United States regarding judicial review of the constitutionality of federal legislation has not changed," Holder wrote.
"The department has not in this litigation, nor in any other litigation of which I am aware, ever asked this or any other court to reconsider or limit long-established precedent concerning judicial review," Holder added.
On Tuesday, after his remarks stirred controversy, the president himself had elaborated, saying that the court "is the final say on our Constitution."
In his letter Thursday, the attorney general said "the president's remarks were fully consistent with the principles" Holder outlined in the letter.
The attorney general noted the health care case now before the Supreme Court, saying the court "has often acknowledged the appropriateness of reliance on the political branches' policy choices and judgments."
"These principles of deference," Holder wrote, "are fully applicable when Congress legislates in the commercial sphere," such as in the overhaul of the health care system now before the justices.
Smith raised the issue of Obama's remarks during oral arguments over a provision in the new health care law that restricts physician-owned hospitals from expanding or building new facilities.
Holder wrote that where someone bringing a case invokes the jurisdiction of the court and has a valid challenge, "there is no dispute that courts properly review the constitutionality of acts of Congress."