Why I Like the Healthcare Ruling
June 29, 2012 5 Comments
RALEIGH— Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its long awaited and highly anticipated ruling on the Healthcare Law known as Obamacare. I’ve been following this process closely and reading as much about it as I can. Leading up to the ruling there were many on the left who fully expected the court to rule against the law. And in a form of preemption, these individuals began to lay the ground work for dismissing the ruling and discrediting the court. I do not believe the court was blind and deaf to this strategy as it was put forward by leading Democrat Party members. In the end, though, the court upheld the law. Even though I am not a fan of this law, I really do like this ruling.
Prior to the ruling being issued the majority of the discussion on both the left and the right side of the political spectrum the debate centered on the argument of the Commerce Clause. Does Congress have the ability to regulate inactivity? Many leading scholars prior to the ruling argued that in fact Congress does have this power to regulate based on the Commerce Clause because Health Care is a unique market. Such an argument would have expanded Federal Power to unlimited levels. Yesterday Chief Justice Roberts handed down a ruling that did two things. First, it utterly destroyed the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause arguments and severely restricted them going forward. In doing so the Chief Justice had the majority of liberal Justices signing on to that argument.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS concluded in Part III–A that the individual mandate is not a valid exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Pp. 16–30.
(a) The Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce.” Art. I, §8, cl. 3 (emphasis added). The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. This Court’s precedent reflects this understanding: As expansive as this Court’s cases construing the scope of the commerce power have been, they uniformly describe the power as reaching “activity.” E.g., United States v. Lopez, 514 U. S. 549, 560. The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce.
Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority. Congress already possesses expansive power to regulate what people do. Upholding the Affordable Care Act under the Commerce Clause would give Congress the same license to regulate what people do not do. The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it. Ignoring that distinction would undermine the principle that the Federal Government is a government of limited and enumerated powers. The individual mandate thus cannot be sustained under Congress’s power to “regulate Commerce.” Pp. 16–27.
(b)Nor can the individual mandate be sustained under the Necessary and Proper Clause as an integral part of the Affordable Care Act’s other reforms. Each of this Court’s prior cases upholding laws under that Clause involved exercises of authority derivative of, and in service to, a granted power. E.g., United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. ___. The individual mandate, by contrast, vests Congress with the extraordinary ability to create the necessary predicate to the exercise of an enumerated power and draw within its regulatory scope those who would otherwise be outside of it. Even if the individual mandate is “necessary” to the Affordable Care Act’s other reforms, such an expansion of federal power is not a “proper” means for making those reforms effective. Pp. 27–30.
And second, the Court found that State Sovereignty was not properly maintained in the Medicaid portion of the bill. In so doing the Chief Justice severely curtailed, and may have finally put an end to, coercive federal bills. Previously the federal government had utilized existing federal money to coerce states to enact laws. For instance the federal government threatened to withhold money for sustaining federal roads within a state which did not increase its drinking age to 21. With this ruling, such options are now ended for Congress.
Politically concerning this ruling, the Chief Justice permitted the bill to stand stating that the Mandate is a tax. I am not a world renowned constitutional lawyer, but I can read, and I would tend to agree. Technically there is nothing in the constitution which states the Federal Government cannot tax in this manner. Below are the reference in the Constitution to taxing powers granted the Federal Government.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers.
—Article I, Section 2, Clause 3
The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
—Article I, Section 8, Clause 1
No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.
—Article I, Section 9, Clause 4
Obviously, just because something might be legal does not mean it should be done. But considering the benefits gained from this ruling, I like it very much.
What America has now is a Supreme Court which is widely panned to be legitimate, and viewed as non-partisan (at least less so than before). It has an exceedingly far left Democratic party praising a decision which severely restricts and limits congressional power. And it leaves this far left Democratic party with only one option in an election year, defend imposing a tax (possibly the largest tax in American history) on the middle class during an economic down turn. In a political environment which has already been discussing major tax reform the far left must now campaign in support of increasing Middle Class taxes. Granted, the spin from the Left will focus on the benefits of the bill. But the sound bites from the Right will include Mr. Obama promising no taxes on the Middle Class in union with the Supreme Court ruling that this is in fact a tax on the Middle Class. Additionally, this middle class is largely going to be asking itself “If the Federal Government can tax me for not having something, they can tax me for anything. Is that type of taxation power something I support?” Such a question will only push tax reform further into the spot light.