Experts say all of those go into the mix as justices consider the extraordinary step of striking down — for the first time since the New Deal — a monumental domestic program proposed by the president and passed by Congress.
The three days of arguments that begin Monday are the inevitable result of a legal battle that began the moment the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law two years ago. And the court’s conclusion will land in the summer heat of a presidential campaign in which each of President Obama’s Republican challengers have made opposition to the law an unshakable pledge.
Such a charged political atmosphere is not the court’s favored environment. The justices are protective of their charge as neutral arbiters of the law, what Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. described as umpires calling balls and strikes.
But some see other factors at work in the court’s decisions — and they say there should be nothing surprising or even particularly negative about that.
“You don’t have to view them as junior varsity politicians to see that their political views and economic predilections have some influence on what they do,” said Jeff Shesol, whose most recent book chronicled the New Deal battles between the Supreme Court and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Certainly the presidents who appointed the nine justices — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — took ideology into consideration in making their selections.
Three days of arguments
Roberts and the court have gone to some lengths to show the nation the seriousness and evenhandedness of their inquiry.
They have scheduled six hours of arguments over three days, the most in 45 years. They will examine the law in detail, even parts that no judges below them have found constitutionally questionable. And while cameras are still forbidden, the court has changed its rules to release audiotape and transcripts of the arguments each day.
Roberts even made something of a preemptive strike this year when he defended his colleagues against criticism that some come to the arguments with agendas.
“We are all deeply committed to the common interest in preserving the court’s vital role as an impartial tribunal governed by the rule of law,” Roberts wrote in his annual report on the state of the judiciary.
But the case sets up a classic problem for the court: when to defer to the political branches as the elected representatives of the people and when to blow the whistle when those politicians have intruded on the Constitution’s protection of the people.