Americans got a taste of some feisty questions leveled against Obamacare by Supreme Court justices last month, and apparently, they liked what they saw.

According to a new Rasmussen Reports poll, approval ratings for the court leaped from all-time record lows right before the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – commonly called Obamacare – went on trial to their highest levels in two-and-a-half years only two weeks later.

“Forty-one percent of likely U.S. voters now rate the Supreme Court’s performance as good or excellent,” the report asserts. “That’s up 13 points from 28 percent in mid-March,” which would have been two weeks before oral arguments were heard in the case brought by 26 states against Obamacare.

Rasmussen notes the turnaround is particularly noticeable when broken down by political affiliation.

“Three weeks ago, 29 percent of Republicans gave the Supreme Court positive marks for its job performance; now that number has climbed to 54 percent,” Rasmussen reports. “Similarly, among voters not affiliated with either of the major political parties, good or excellent ratings for the court have increased from 26 percent in mid-March to 42 percent now. Democrats’ views of the court are largely unchanged.”

Rasmussen notes its data does not measure whether the leap in ratings was prompted by the hearings themselves, the justices’ questions, President Obama’s comments cautioning the court about overturning the law or from other factors, yet it’s clear the controversy effected a major improvement in perceptions of the court.

From March 26-28, the Supreme Court heard six hours of oral arguments in the case challenging Obamacare, and audio of the sessions – including some sharp questioning of the law’s constitutionality – was widely distributed in the news media. At the heart of the justices’ questions was whether the federal government has the power to mandate individuals buy health insurance.

Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, famously asked whether the government could mandate Americans buy broccoli, since – just as federal attorneys argued all Americans require health care and thus affect the market – we all need to eat, too. Chief Justice Roberts asked about mandating cell phones to dial 911. Justice Samuel Alito asked if people could be forced to buy burial plots, because failing to do so would shift the cost to surviving relatives (much like not purchasing health care shifts costs to those who are covered in the form of higher premiums).

Even Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a swing vote and possibly the deciding vote in the case, questioned the mandate.

“The reason this is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act,” Kennedy said. “And here, the government is saying that the federal government has a duty to tell the individual citizen that it must act. And that is different from what we have in previous cases.”

So forward was the court in questioning the federal government’s reasoning in the case that many pundits and commentators who earlier thought Obamacare would stand easily under Supreme Court scrutiny now wonder if it won’t be a close vote.

President Obama may be feeling the heat too, as he has made several public comments admonishing the court for considering a vote against the law.

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

Yet Obama’s “strong majority” (in actuality, 60-39 in the Senate and 219-212 in the House) hasn’t carried over the general public, a majority of which supports repeal of the law.

A Rasmussen telephone survey from last week found 54 percent of likely U.S. voters at least somewhat favor repeal of Obamacare, including 41 percent who strongly favor it. Forty percent are at least somewhat opposed to repeal, with only 25 percent strongly opposed.

As for the Supreme Court’s role in the ongoing controversy, Rasmussen Reports again gives a clue to American sentiment on questions of growing government power, such as opponents of Obamacare would characterize the individual mandate.

“Data released [last week] showed that only 15 percent of voters think the high court puts too many limitations on what the federal government can do. Twice as many (30 percent) believe the Supreme Court does not limit the government enough,” Rasmussen reports. “Forty percent say the balance is about right, while 15 percent more are undecided.”

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