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Supreme Court Ruffles Democrats’ Feathers

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
A police officer guards the plaza of the Supreme Court on Friday as ropes and stanchions were already set up to handle the crowds expected for the court's hearing on the Affordable Care Act.

“I am pleased that this bipartisan bill seeks to address and correct the Supreme Court’s Ledbetter decision from last spring,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said in an April 2008 floor speech. “As Justice Ginsburg noted in her Ledbetter dissent, such a law is ‘more in tune with the realities of the workplace.’ The Supreme Court majority failed to recognize these realties, including that pay disparities typically occur incrementally and develop slowly over time, and they are not easily identifiable and are often kept hidden by employers.”

After Democrats succeeded in passing the legislation, Obama signed it into law flanked by Democratic leaders and Ledbetter. A year later, to commemorate the anniversary of the law’s passage and facing a tough re-election battle, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) sat for photographs with Ledbetter in a Capitol suite.

Although the Ledbetter law, approved when Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress, was their only effective legislative attack on what they consider to be the court’s failings, the party has not stopped trying to construct a campaign narrative around politically unpopular decisions.

Democrats last month refiled the DISCLOSE Act, which failed to pass last year, to address the court’s decision to undo a long-standing precedent that prohibited corporations and unions from spending unlimited funds in political advocacy. The Citizens United case, widely regarded as leading to super PACs, has been deeply unpopular with Democrats, despite the fact that the influx of money could benefit both parties.

Several Democratic aides indicated that while the health care case this week will receive intense coverage, next month’s hearing on a controversial Arizona immigration law might be more important. Arizona’s law requires police to check the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. If the court upholds the law, Democrats could renew their push for immigration reform in a presidential election year when both parties will be vying for the all-important Latino vote.

Democrats have felt somewhat at a disadvantage with the Roberts court and remain wary of the outcome for the law. But Republicans appeared equally nervous about the outcome of the health care case this week.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has focused his messaging operation not on the court case but on Congressional efforts to repeal the health care law in 2013, when he hopes his party will reclaim the Senate.

When pressed for further details on what Republicans might do if the court rules in favor for the law, a senior GOP aide said, “Just because Democrats play rapid response with the Supreme Court doesn’t mean Republicans will do the same thing.”

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