Obamacare is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever enacted. Its 2,700 unreadable pages are bursting with unintended consequences that will ultimately do great harm to the very people it is supposedly intended to help — and the rest of us as well. But the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the law is largely a victory for conservative principles.
Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion reinvigorates the Commerce Clause as a check on Congress’s power to usurp our liberty. Our Constitution was never intended to endow Congress with unlimited power to control our lives. Whenever Congress wants to pass a law, it has to point to specific authority in the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to pass that law. That’s the theory, at least.
That theory has been gutted over the last several years by Supreme Court decisions interpreting the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. That clause gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce “among the several States.” The Supreme Court has interpreted that clause to mean that Congress not only has the power to regulate interstate commerce directly, but also has the power to regulate things that “affect” interstate commerce. And what “affects” interstate commerce? Prior Supreme Court decisions would seem to suggest that just about everything affects interstate commerce. Ergo, Congress seemingly had the authority to regulate anything it wanted. Ergo, the Commerce Clause was seemingly meaningless, and our federal government was not one of limited powers after all.
That was just fine with liberals; they had long viewed the Constitution as an irritating impediment to their ability to jam their utopian vision of society down our throats. Are people affecting interstate commerce just by sitting on their couch and breathing? Of course they are, liberals argued with a straight face. If you’re just sitting in your living room minding your own business, of course Congress has the power to reach inside your living room, grab you and force you to buy something you don’t want to buy. Health insurance today, broccoli tomorrow. Stay the hell out of our bedrooms, Congress, but by all means, reach inside our living rooms and force us to buy health insurance!
Thankfully, the Supreme Court today prevented Congress from using the Commerce Clause as an excuse to regulate inactivity. That is an important line in the sand to prevent Congress from completely ignoring our freedoms. Had the court ruled otherwise, there would have been essentially no limits on Congress’s power to micromanage our lives.
The court did, however, uphold Obamacare’s individual mandate — that is, the requirement that people either buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The court reached this result by concluding that the penalty was in fact a tax, something that the Constitution authorizes Congress to levy. President Obama, of course, had vehemently denied that the penalty was a tax — and, in the height of cynicism, instructed his lawyers to argue the complete opposite of his own position. Just win, baby.
The notion that the penalty is a tax is troubling. Can Congress now force us to buy broccoli, and then “tax” us if we fail to follow their orders? Can the federal government “tax” us for failing to buy products sold by the president’s cronies? If they could have taxed us for failing to buy solar panels from Solyndra, for example, the company would never have gone bankrupt. Although I disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Obamacare penalty is a tax — and can conjure horrible scenarios that could conceivably result from that ruling — a further evisceration of the Commerce Clause would have been much more troubling. In the future, liberals may indeed try to use Congress’s taxing authority as a pretext to micromanage our behavior in health care and other areas. Thanks to this ruling, however, it would be harder for them to conceal the fact that they were proposing a massive tax increase. Let them fight that battle in the political process.