Why the Health-Care Bills Are Unconstitutional
If the government can mandate the purchase of insurance, it can do anything.
The Wall Street JournalBy ORRIN G. HATCH, J. KENNETH BLACKWELL AND KENNETH A. KLUKOWSKI
First, the Constitution does not give Congress the power to require that Americans purchase health insurance. Congress must be able to point to at least one of its powers listed in the Constitution as the basis of any legislation it passes. None of those powers justifies the individual insurance mandate. Congress's powers to tax and spend do not apply because the mandate neither taxes nor spends. The only other option is Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce.
In fact, the Supreme Court in United States v. Lopez (1995) rejected a version of the commerce power so expansive that it would leave virtually no activities by individuals that Congress could not regulate. By requiring Americans to use their own money to purchase a particular good or service, Congress would be doing exactly what the court said it could not do.
We start with first principles. The Constitution creates a Federal Government of enumerated powers. See U. S. Const., Art. I, §8. As James Madison wrote, "[t]he powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite." The Federalist No. 45, pp. 292-293 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961). This constitutionally mandated division of authority "was adopted by the Framers to ensure protection of our fundamental liberties." Gregory v. Ashcroft, 501 U.S. 452, 458 (1991) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Just as the separation and independence of the coordinate branches of the Federal Government serves to prevent the accumulation of excessive power in any one branch, a healthy balance of power between the States and the Federal Government will reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front." Ibid.A second constitutional defect of the Reid bill passed in the Senate involves the deals he cut to secure the votes of individual senators. Some of those deals do involve spending programs because they waive certain states' obligation to contribute to the Medicaid program. This selective spending targeted at certain states runs afoul of the general welfare clause. The welfare it serves is instead very specific and has been dubbed "cash for cloture" because it secured the 60 votes the majority needed to end debate and pass this legislation.
To uphold the Government's contentions here, we would have to pile inference upon inference in a manner that would bid fair to convert congressional authority under the Commerce Clause to a general police power of the sort retained by the States. Admittedly, some of our prior cases have taken long steps down that road, giving great deference to congressional action. See supra, at 8. The broad language in these opinions has suggested the possibility of additional expansion, but we decline here to proceed any further. To do so would require us to conclude that the Constitution's enumeration of powers does not presuppose something not enumerated, cf. Gibbons v. Ogden, supra, at 195, and that there never will be a distinction between what is truly national and what is truly local, cf. Jones & Laughlin Steel, supra, at 30. This we are unwilling to do. United States v. Lopez (93-1260), 514 U.S. 549 (1995).
A third constitutional defect in this ObamaCare legislation is its command that states establish such things as benefit exchanges, which will require state legislation and regulations. This is not a condition for receiving federal funds, which would still leave some kind of choice to the states. No, this legislation requires states to establish these exchanges or says that the Secretary of Health and Human Services will step in and do it for them. It renders states little more than subdivisions of the federal government.
This violates the letter, the spirit, and the interpretation of our federal-state form of government. Some may have come to consider federalism an archaic annoyance, perhaps an amusing topic for law-school seminars but certainly not a substantive rule for structuring government. But in New York v. United States (1992) and Printz v. United States (1997), the Supreme Court struck down two laws on the grounds that the Constitution forbids the federal government from commandeering any branch of state government to administer a federal program. That is, by drafting and by deliberate design, exactly what this legislation would do. FULL STORY