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Civics 101: Health care & legal precedents
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The dust-up over President Barack Obama's health care law and his comments about the Supreme Court's review of it amount to a civics lesson wrapped in a political uproar.

Civics 101 tells us the Supreme Court has the authority to review acts of Congress and determine whether or not they violate the Constitution.

It's been that way since 1803 when the court, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, ruled against a legislative attempt by the Federalists to take control of the federal judiciary before Thomas Jefferson took office. "An act of the legislature repugnant to the Constitution is void," the court said in a unanimous ruling.

That authority — the court passing judgment on the work of Congress — is what engaged the justices in three days of arguments last week as they considered a case that could result in overturning Congress' overhaul of the nation's health care system.

And that authority is what Obama addressed Tuesday when he said the court "is the final say on our Constitution." The day before, the president had stirred up controversy by saying it would be "unprecedented" that "an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law."

The White House was still struggling Wednesday to explain that.