Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare

Here is the full decision in PDF form: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/11-393c3a2.pdf

A telling line from Chief Justice John Roberts' decision is below. I highlighted a particularly pointed line:

"Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices."

Here are other particularly important lines from the Chief Justice's majority opinion:

"Allowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation, and—under the Government’s theory—empower Congress to make those decisions for him...Indeed, the Government’s logic would justify a mandatory
purchase to solve almost any problem."

"People, for reasons of their own, often fail to do things that would be good for them or good for society. Those failures—joined with the similar failures of others—can readily have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. 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."

"...the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, it may be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax."

"The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

"The Federal Government does not have the power to order people to buy health insurance. Section 5000A would therefore be unconstitutional if read as a command. The Federal Government does have the power to impose a tax on those without health insurance. Section 5000A is therefore constitutional, because it can reasonably be read as a tax."

"Permitting the Federal Government to force the States to implement a federal program would threaten the political accountability key to our federal system."

"Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the Affordable Care Act to expand the availability of health care, and requiring that States accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use. What Congress is not free to do is to penalize States that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding."

"The Affordable Care Act is constitutional in part and unconstitutional in part. The individual mandate cannot be upheld as an exercise of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. That Clause authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce, not to order individuals to engage in it. In this case, however, it is reasonable to construe what Congress has done as increasing taxes on those who have a certain amount of income, but choose to go without health insurance. Such legislation is within Congress’s power to tax.As for the Medicaid expansion, that portion of the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution by threatening existing Medicaid funding. Congress has no authority to order the States to regulate according to its instructions. Congress may offer the States grants and require the States to comply with accompanying conditions, but the States must have a genuine choice whether to accept the offer. The States are given no such choice in this case: They must either accept a basic change in the nature of Medicaid, or risk losing all Medicaid funding. The remedy for that constitutional violation is to preclude the Federal Government from imposing such a sanction. That remedy does not require striking down other portions of the Affordable Care Act.

The Framers created a Federal Government of limited powers, and assigned to this Court the duty of enforcing those limits. The Court does so today. But the Court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

It is so ordered."

Notable quotes from the dissenting opinions of Justices Alito, Kennedy, Thomas and Scalia:

"Whatever may be the conceptual limits upon the Commerce Clause and upon the power to tax and spend, they cannot be such as will enable the Federal Government to regulate all private conduct and to compel the States to function as administrators of federal programs."

"The Act before us here exceeds federal power both in mandating the purchase of health insurance and in denying non-consenting States all Medicaid funding. These parts of the Act are central to its design and operation, and all the Act’s other provisions would not have been enacted without them. In our view it must follow that the entire statute is inoperative."

"If Congress can reach out and command even those furthest removed from an interstate market to participate in the market, then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton’s words, “the hideous monster whose devouring jaws . . . spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane.” The Federalist No. 33, p. 202 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961)."

"As we said at the outset, whereas the precise scope of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause is uncertain,the proposition that the Federal Government cannot do everything is a fundamental precept."

"All of us consume food, and when we do so the Federal Government can prescribe what its quality must be and even how much we must pay. But the mere fact that we all consume food and are thus, sooner or later, participants in the “market” for food, does not empower the Government to say when and what we will buy. That is essentially what this Act seeks to do with respect to the purchase of health care. It exceeds federal power."

"The issue is not whether Congress had the power to frame the minimum-coverage provision as a tax, but whether it did so."

"Our cases establish a clear line between a tax and a penalty: “‘[A] tax is an enforced contribution to provide for the support of government; a penalty . . . is an exaction imposed by statute as punishment for an unlawful act.’” United States v. Reorganized CF&I Fabricators of Utah, Inc., 518 U. S. 213, 224 (1996) (quoting United States v. La Franca, 282 U. S. 568, 572 (1931)). In a few cases, this Court has held that a “tax” imposed upon private conduct was so onerous as to be in effect a penalty. But we have never held—never—that a penalty imposed for violation of the law was so trivial as to be in effect a tax. We have never held that any exaction imposed for violation of the law is an exercise of Congress’ taxing power—even when the statute calls it a tax, much less when (as here)the statute repeatedly calls it a penalty. When an act “adopt[s] the criteria of wrongdoing” and then imposes a monetary penalty as the “principal consequence on those who transgress its standard,” it creates a regulatory penalty, not a tax. Child Labor Tax Case, 259 U. S. 20, 38 (1922)."

"the fact that Congress (in its own words) “imposed . . . a penalty,” 26 U. S. C. §5000A(b)(1),for failure to buy insurance is alone sufficient to render that failure unlawful."

"to say that the Individual Mandate merely imposes a tax is not to interpret the statute but to rewrite it."

"Imposing a tax through judicial legislation inverts the constitutional
scheme, and places the power to tax in the branch of government least accountable to the citizenry."

"When Congress compels the States to do its bidding, it blurs the lines of political accountability."

"Whether federal spending legislation crosses the line from enticement to coercion is often difficult to determine, and courts should not conclude that legislation is unconstitutional on this ground unless the coercive nature of an offer is unmistakably clear. In this case, however, there can be no doubt. In structuring the ACA, Congress unambiguously signaled its belief that every State would have no real choice but to go along with the Medicaid Expansion.
If the anti coercion rule does not apply in this case,then there is no such rule."

"Seven Members of the Court agree that the Medicaid Expansion, as enacted by Congress, is unconstitutional."

"The Affordable Care Act seeks to achieve "universal” health insurance coverage. §18091(2)(D) (2006 ed., Supp. IV). The two pillars of the Act are the Individual Mandate and the expansion of coverage under Medicaid.In our view, both these central provisions of the Act—the Individual Mandate and Medicaid Expansion—are invalid. It follows, as some of the parties urge, that all other provisions of the Act must fall as well. The following section explains the severability principles."

"Major provisions of the Affordable Care Act—i.e., the insurance regulations and taxes, the reductions in federal reimbursements to hospitals and other Medicare spending reductions, the exchanges and their federal subsidies,and the employer responsibility assessment—cannot remain once the Individual Mandate and Medicaid Expansion are invalid."

I will post my reaction to the ruling momentarily.

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