U.S. President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama on Monday called on the U.S. Supreme Court to show restraint in its deliberation over the fate of the 2010 health care overhaul. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama took a rare dig at the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that while he thinks his overhaul of the nation's health care system will be upheld, the unelected justices should show restraint in the face of arguments for overturning the law.

Obama, making his first public remarks since the court last week heard oral arguments about the law, told a White House news conference Monday that the requirement for most Americans to get medical insurance is sound law backed by judicial precedent.

That's not just my opinion, by the way, said Obama, a former professor of constitutional law. That's the opinion of legal experts across the ideological spectrum, including two very conservative appellate court justices, who said this wasn't even a close case.

The high court's five Republican-appointed justices seemed skeptical last week of the government's case for forcing most Americans to get insured or pay a fine. On Monday, Obama appealed to members of that conservative bloc who may be open to persuasion. He stressed that judicial restraint should accompany the court's deliberation over whether the 2010 law -- the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- was an overreach of power by Congress, violating the Constitution.

Ultimately, I'm confident the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step in overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress, the president said.

Obama's fellow Democrats have also expressed confidence about the law's chances at the court, despite the tough line of questioning government lawyers received from key justices whose vote will determine the outcome. A ruling is expected sometime in early summer.

But many of those Democrats say overturning the health care law would be a radical departure for the Supreme Court. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said Sunday that doing so would put the justices so far out of the mainstream.

The court's five conservatives will have to balance the constitutional questions over the mandate with their general reluctance to legislate from the bench -- a tension Obama mentioned Monday.

I just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard was 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, Obama said. Well, this is a good example and I'm pretty confident this court will recognize that and not take that step.

Amid speculation about how the justices ultimately will vote, Obama discussed the millions of Americans who are now insured under the law, such as young people who can stay on their parents' policies and those who can get insurance even though they have existing medical conditions. Also, tens of millions would get insured after the law's individual mandate took effect in 2014.

There's not only an economic element to this, a legal element to this, but there's a human element to this, Obama said. And I hope that's not forgotten in this political debate.