President Barack Obama’s legislation towards universal health care has been under attack ever since he introduced his plan, with many people yelling and screaming that it is “socialism” and Obama is “stepping all over the Constitution,” but this could not be further from the truth.
The legality of the health care bill is undeniable. It is completely legal, and I am confident that the U.S. Supreme Court justices will agree.
The Supreme Court has been reading briefs and discussing whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The controversy around this issue comes mainly from the individual mandate, the requirement that most Americans buy health insurance or pay a penalty. The question then becomes: can the federal government penalize us for not getting health insurance from private insurance companies?
The federal government, unlike the individual states, must tether its laws to specific powers enumerated in the U.S. Constitution. States must also follow their state constitutions, but they also have more general powers, such as the policing power.
When the mandate was first enacted, Congress used two related powers. They used those powers addressed in the Commerce Clause and also present in the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Commerce Clause enables Congress to regulate commerce among the several states; the Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to make laws that are “necessary and proper” for executing other powers.
Dating all the way back to the 1940s, the courts have interpreted these clauses quite broadly. With the increasingly high number of people without health insurance in the United States, the impact that this will have on interstate commerce will undoubtedly be substantial and just show more reason why health care reform is constitutional.
From 1937 to 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t invalidate a single federal law as unconstitutional for exceeding the scope of Congress’s commerce power. Because of this, almost all constitutional scholars who have looked at this issue carefully have concluded that, if precedent is followed, health care reform is constitutional. And following suit, most of the lower and mid-level courts have applied the Commerce Clause as broadly as it has been interpreted by past Supreme Courts.
In June 2011, the Sixth U.S. Court of Appeals noted “everyone, no matter his or her state, eventually gets sick and uses health care, and hospitals across the country are required by law to provide care regardless of ability to pay. Decisions by some to forego health insurance drives up the cost of insurance for others across the country.” The court reasoned that the choice to forego health insurance substantially affects interstate commerce.
For those who stand opposed to Obama’s health care reform and hope that the U.S. Supreme Court does not use precedent to decide this case, you better think again. To think that the Supreme Court justices would not use precedent to decide this case would be a mistake.