Friday, June 29, 2012

Supreme Court Ruling on Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Yeah, I know...the "in" thing to do is call it ObamaCare, but in TRYING to keep civil about it, I called it by it's actual name.  Regardless of what you call it, everyone agrees that the healthcare reform bill that passed is one of the most divisive issues in the country today.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down their decision on the bill upholding almost the entire bill as Constitutional.  What shocked and outraged most people was that the Supreme Court upheld the individual "mandate" that requires every individual to either purchase health insurance or pay a penalty.  I am still in the process of reading the Court's decision and the dissenting opinions (yes, I'm actually reading the whole thing!), so my opinions at this point are admittedly based on the excerpts I have read from various locations.

I do believe that the legislation was a bad solution to a bad problem in this country.  The two main provisions that I have always had problems with are the individual mandate and the section that would force the states expand Medicaid.  The government justified the entire bill during oral arguments by saying that the Interstate Commerce Clause in the Constitution gave Congress the authority to enact this legislation.  The Commerce Clause has been used by the Federal Government for decades to justify overreaching their stated powers.  In its majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court soundly rejected the Commerce Clause as giving Congress this authority.  “People, for reasons of their own, often fail to do things that would be good for them or for society,” he wrote. “Under the Government’s logic, that authorizes Congress to use its commerce power to compel citizens to act as the Government would have them act. That is not the country the Framers of our Constitution envisioned.”

Unfortunately, the Court then went on to say that the Federal government does have the authority to enact this law under its power to tax the people.  Effectively, the Court re-interpreted the individual mandate not as a requirement to purchase something, but as a tax for choosing NOT to purchase something.

I am very torn by the decision that the Court handed down.  My positive reaction comes from the standpoint that the Court has finally taken a stand and rejected the Commerce Clause as justifying any regulation that the Federal Government wants to pass.  I think that the opinion authored by Chief Justice Roberts is an amazing victory in that sense.  It ends decades long perversion of the Constitution.  In the long term, this decision will have an incredibly positive influence on limiting the powers of the Federal government.

What concerns me about the Court's decision in this case, though, is the fact that the Court re-interpreted the government's intention behind the law.  The government clearly stated that the intention and justification was not taxation but rather regulating commerce.  The Court said, in essence, that the government is wrong - it IS a tax.  “Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance,” Roberts wrote. “Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income.”  The Court has no more business re-interpreting the intent of a law than it does re-interpreting the Constitution to mean something it was never intended to mean.

More to come on this as I read the decisions, but in the mean time, here is a pretty good article from Slate on how Chief Justice Roberts won the war against the Commerce Clause...

No comments:

Post a Comment