What is the proper role of government? This question has plagued humanity for centuries, and still no one can provide an answer that can garner a small amount of consensus. Do we need a collective body to simply stop violence or should it move into other parts of our lives as well?
During spring break, the United States Supreme Court heard three days of argument about the constitutionality of the Obama administration’s healthcare overhaul. The court's ruling, which will likely be announced sometime in June, will not only affect this law, but it will also set precedent for what Congress is allowed to do for many years to come. This ruling will answer two important questions.
First, does Congress have the authority to force private citizens to commit an act of commerce? States have the right to do this. For example, Missouri requires individuals who drive to buy car insurance, and Massachusetts famously passed its healthcare reform that forced individuals to buy health insurance in 2006 under then Gov. Mitt Romney. Conversely, the federal government has never been granted the right to force citizens to purchase goods against their will. The argument comes down to whether the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution allows this.
The individual mandate is the heart of this law, and without its heart, the law will not survive. The idea the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is legal under the Commerce Clause is inherently flawed. The Commerce Clause regulates commerce that individuals and businesses choose to perform. The problem with Obamacare is that the government is forcing commerce to occur so that it can then be regulated. As Justice Anthony Kennedy asked during the hearings, “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?”
The second question is what sort of commerce can Congress regulate? The line in the Constitution that gives this power to Congress reads, “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” This passage is more commonly known as the Interstate Commerce Clause. It gives Congress the right to regulate commerce between states. The problem this presents is, what is Interstate Commerce? The courts have allowed Congress some latitude, but several key decisions have limited these powers, including United States v. Lopez, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the regulation of guns in school zones has nothing to do with interstate commerce.
It’s hard to believe that the act of buying health insurance could be considered interstate commerce. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most obvious is the fact that it is currently illegal to buy health insurance across state lines. The sad part is that this obvious contradiction might be lost in the minds of the justices. Rulings that side with the idea of a limited Commerce Clause have been few and far between. Even Rep. Ron Paul said he doesn’t believe the court will rule against the law this time around.
This is another defining moment in American history. This ruling will set precedent for what Congress is allowed to do in years to come.
Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule against this overreaching by Congress, thereby slowing down the growth of the federal bureaucracy. If the court allows the law to stand, it has opened wide the gate to government intrusion in our private lives. If not, the federal government will become even more proactive at doing what it does best. Actually, it’s the only thing government does well — putting up more red tape. (Although, they’ll probably use another color because red is too “harsh.”)
Looking back at Obamacare specifically, even if the court upholds it, so long as President Obama loses his bid for re-election, the law will immediately be thrown out by the guy President Barack Obama claims wrote the blueprint, Gov. Mitt Romney.