Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Comptroller v. Wynne, the case testing the scope of a state's authority to tax the out-of-state income of its residents. In particular, the case asks whether a state can provide a credit for income tax paid to other states against a resident's state income tax without also providing a credit against that resident's county income tax. Here's an exerpt from my preview of the case for the ABA's Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases:
Maryland imposes a “state income tax” and a “county income tax” on all of the income earned by a Maryland resident, even income earned out of state. (For those subject to the state income tax but not the county income tax, because they live out of state but earn income in Maryland, the state imposes a “Special Non-Resident Tax,” or “SNRT.”) That means that a Maryland resident who earns income out of state pays the Maryland “state income tax,” the Maryland “county income tax,” and the state income tax of the other state on that income. Maryland allows an off-setting credit for income tax on out-of-state income tax paid in another state, but only as to the Maryland state income tax, not as to the Maryland county income tax. (Maryland used to allow the off-setting credit as to the state income tax and the county income tax. But in 1975, the legislature amended the state tax code to eliminate the credit as to the county income tax.)
An example may help. (This comes from the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling in this case.) Suppose that Maryland imposes a state income tax of 4.75 percent on all income earned by its residents, a county income tax of 3.2 percent on all income earned by its residents, and an SNRT of 1.25 percent on the income earned by non-residents in Maryland. Suppose that Pennsylvania imposes the exact same taxes at the exact same rates.
Suppose that John lives in Maryland and earns $100,000 per year. Suppose he earns half of his income from activities in Maryland and half of his income from activities in Pennsylvania. If so, John owes $4,750 (or .0475 x $100,000) in Maryland state income tax and $3,200 (or .032 x $100,000) in Maryland county income tax, for a total of $7,950 for all Maryland taxes.
At the same time, John also owes $2,375 (or .0475 x $50,000) in Pennsylvania state income tax and $625 (or .0125 x $50,000) in Pennsylvania SNRT tax for a total of $3,000 for all Pennsylvania taxes.
Based on John’s tax owed to Pennsylvania, John qualifies for a Maryland state tax credit in the amount of $2,375 (the maximum allowable credit under the Maryland tax code, given the assumptions in this example). That means that John owes a total Maryland tax of $5,575, and John’s total state income tax burden is $8,575 (or $5,575 for all Maryland state taxes plus $3,000 for all Pennsylvania state taxes).
(Note that John’s total state tax burden is $625 more than the total state income tax burden for an individual, let’s call her Mary, who earned the same amount of income, but only in Maryland. Mary would only owe $7,950 in Maryland state taxes—the same as John’s Maryland state tax burden without the credit for taxes paid to Pennsylvania.)
In the 2006 tax year, Brian and Karen Wynne found themselves in a position like John’s—that is, paying state income taxes in other states, but not receiving a credit toward their Maryland county tax. Brian and Karen Wynne are a married couple living in Howard County, Maryland. Brian Wynne was one of seven owners of Maxim Healthcare Services, Inc., a company that does a national business providing healthcare services. Maxim is an S-corporation under the Internal Revenue Code, which means that Maxim’s income is imputed (or “passed through”) to its owners for federal income tax purposes. Maryland also accords pass-through treatment to the income of an S-corporation. In 2006, Maxim earned income in 39 states and, as an S-corporation, allocated to each owner a pro rata share of the taxes paid in each state.
The Wynnes reported Brian Wynne’s income from Maxim on their 2006 Maryland state tax return. The Wynnes claimed a credit based on Brian’s pro rata share of state and local income taxes paid to other states.
The Maryland Comptroller made a change in the computation of the local tax owed by the Wynnes and revised the credit for taxes paid to other states. This resulted in a deficiency in the Maryland taxes paid by the Wynnes, and they appealed. After exhausting their administrative appeals, the Wynnes appealed to the Maryland Tax Court, where they argued that the limitation on the credit to the Maryland state tax (which did not extend to the Maryland county tax) for tax payments made to other states discriminated against interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. The Tax Court rejected the argument, and the Wynnes appealed, until the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state high court, agreed. This appeal followed.
While the Commerce Clause gives Congress authority to regulate interstate commerce, the so-called Dormant Commerce Clause restricts the states from discriminating against interstate commerce. (The Dormant Commerce Clause is not in the Constitution as such. Instead, the Court infers it from the Commerce Clause and federalism principles.) One way that a state might discriminate against interstate commerce is through its tax scheme. When this happens, the Court uses a four-part test first articulated in Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady. 430 U.S. 274 (1977). Under that test, a state tax does not violate the Commerce Clause if
- [the tax] is applied to an activity with a substantial nexus to the taxing state;
- it is fairly apportioned so as to tax only the activities connected to the taxing state;
- it does not discriminate against out-of-staters; and
- it is fairly related to services provided by the state.
The Maryland Court of Appeals held that the Maryland tax scheme violates the second and third prongs of this test. The court ruled that the tax scheme was not fairly apportioned, because it amounted to double-taxation of income. The court ruled that the scheme discriminated against out-of-staters, because it favors individuals who do business only in Maryland over individuals who do business across state lines.
The parties disagree over whether and how the Complete Auto test applies to the Maryland tax scheme for individual income taxes passed through an S-corporation. (That last part is important, because, as described below, different rules may apply to a state tax scheme for corporate income taxes owed by a C-corporation.) They also disagree over the application of the time-honored principle that states can tax all the income of their residents, even income earned in other states.
Maryland argues first that states have authority to tax all income of their residents, including income earned outside the state’s borders. The state says that this authority is based on the taxpayer’s domicile, not the source of his or her income, and it claims that the state’s authority to tax its residents is justified based on the substantial benefits that residents receive from the state. The state contends that it has designed its income tax system to ensure that all Maryland residents contribute to the benefits that the state offers those residents. In particular, the state says that the tax credit for out-of-state income tax is designed to reduce Maryland tax payments for residents earning income outside the state while at the same time requiring those residents to pay some income tax to support state and local government programs.
The state argues that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling—compelling Maryland to give a credit for tax payments to other states against both the state income tax and the county income tax—would mean that certain Maryland taxpayers could take advantage of state and local benefits “without contributing any income taxes in return.” The state claims that this is particularly unjustified, because Maryland taxpayers can exercise their political power within Maryland to change the state tax system. (In contrast, the state argues, other tax schemes invalidated by the Supreme Court involved disproportionate income taxes on nonresidents, who did not have political power within the taxing state.) The state says that “Maryland’s system simply asks something more of the State’s own citizens,” and that those citizens can work through the political process to change it, if they like.
The state argues next that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruling would undermine the principle that a state can tax all the income of its residents, wherever earned. It says that the ruling effectively means that a state is barred from taxing its residents’ out-of-state income to the extent that another state has already taxed that income. This, in turn, means that a state’s authority to tax its residents’ income is subordinate to another state’s authority to tax that income. The state contends that this does not square with the general rule that a state can tax all its residents’ income. It also says that this is not supported by the Constitution, which treats all states equally for this purpose and does not provide a priority of states’ authority to tax.
The state claims further that no principle of double taxation bars Maryland from denying a credit toward the Maryland county tax. It says that there is no problem with double taxation so long as both sovereigns have valid authority to impose the taxes that result in double taxation. It claims that this rule is consistent with the principle that a state can impose taxes to pay for a fair share of services, and the reality that “states do significantly more for their residents than they do for taxpayers who simply earn income within their territory.”
Finally, the state argues that the Maryland Court of Appeals wrongly applied the standard under Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Brady. It says that the court wrongly looked at the taxes that the Wynnes paid to all states, and not the taxes they paid only to Maryland. The state contends that the Maryland scheme, taken on its own, is completely neutral with respect to interstate commerce, and that a higher overall tax burden (as illustrated in the example above) is only due to the accident of two taxing sovereigns simultaneously exercising their valid taxing authorities. Moreover, the state claims that the Maryland Court of Appeals was wrong to conclude that the Maryland tax is not fairly apportioned. It says that the Maryland tax is based on Maryland residency, and that there is no need for it to be apportioned—indeed, that residency cannot be apportioned.
The federal government, weighing in as amicus curiae in support of Maryland, adds that Wynne is wrong to focus on whether the Commerce Clause requires states to offer credits for out-of-state income taxes paid by corporations. (Wynne’s argument on this point is summarized below.) The government says that C-corporations have a different relationship to, and receive different benefits from, the state than individuals (taxed as an S-corporation)—and that corporate income tax is different than personal income tax. The government contends that this means that the Commerce Clause analysis for these different types of taxes might be different. Moreover, the government says that it is an open question whether states must apportion income of resident corporations by providing credits for out-of-state income tax.
Wynne argues first that the Maryland tax scheme violates the Commerce Clause. He says that the scheme results in double taxation of out-of-state income as a result of engaging in interstate commerce. He says that the Court has long invalidated that kind of tax.
Wynne argues next that the state applies the wrong test. Wynne says that the state never applies the Complete Auto test and instead “tries to float above the Commerce Clause jurisprudence” to find an exception to the rule that a state may not double tax interstate commerce. He claims that the state’s reliance on its sovereign authority to tax its residents is misplaced, because the Court has struck state taxes—even taxes on residents—that violate the Commerce Clause. He contends moreover that this reliance is misplaced, because the Court’s jurisprudence has never turned on labels (like “residency”); instead it turns on whether a tax substantially affects interstate commerce. And Wynne says that Maryland’s scheme has a substantial effect on interstate commerce, because, as here, “it discourages interstate activity by a corporation that operates in dozens of States.”
Wynne argues that the state is wrong to say that it can double-tax income in order to ensure that residents pay for state services. He claims that he would still pay substantial state income taxes even with a credit against his county tax, and that he pays all manner of other state taxes that go to support state services. And Wynne contends that Maryland and other states provide extensive services to resident corporations, but that, under Supreme Court precedent, they cannot double-tax them. He says that this shows that Maryland’s argument about paying for services “proves too much.”
Finally, Wynne argues that the state’s position would have a “bizarre result.” He says that the state’s position means that states could not double-tax resident C-corporations, but could double-tax resident S-corporations. He claims that this makes no sense, given that each kind of corporation engages in interstate commerce.
This case could have immediate and important fiscal significance for Maryland and states and municipalities around the country. For Maryland, a ruling affirming the Maryland Court of Appeals could cost the state between $45 and $50 million per year in tax revenue, and as much as $120 million in retroactive tax-refund claims. Around the country, such a ruling could affect more than 2,000 municipal income taxes nationwide that might not provide credits for out-of-state income taxes. States could seek to make up losses by increasing income tax rates (or imposing or increasing other taxes), but that option could be politically difficult.
More generally, the case potentially tests the long-standing principle that a state may tax all the income of its residents, even if earned out of state. But this principle is well established and universally relied upon. The Court is unlikely to rule in a way that threatens it.
Finally, the ruling of the Maryland Court of Appeals is in tension with other state-court rulings on similar (but not exactly the same) issues. This case will settle the matter, and tell us whether a state must provide a credit against all aspects of the state income tax.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
The Constitutional Accountability Center is examining Chief Justice John Roberts's first decade in office in a series of posts and articles called Roberts at 10. Here's the intro.
Brianne Gorod, the CAC's appellate counsel, posted most recently on Chief Justice Roberts and federal power, in particular, NFIB. Here's her conclusion:
[I]t is nonetheless clear that the Chief Justice is concerned about the scope of federal power and, in particular, the breadth of the federal regulatory state . . . . And while Chief Justice Roberts may not have the same appetite to change the law in these areas as Chief Justice Rehnquist had, it also seems clear that Chief Justice John Roberts's views on the Commerce Clause and the Spending Clause aren't exactly what Judge Roberts presented them to be at his confirmation hearing in 2005. Just how different they are . . . remains to be seen. But supporters of the Affordable Care Act shouldn't give Chief Justice Roberts too much credit for his decision in NFIB. It's complicated.
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
The Ninth Circuit ruled in PRMA v. County of Alameda that the County's drug disposal ordinance--which requires any prescription drug producer who sells, offers for sale, or distributes drugs in Alameda County to collect and dispose of the County's unwanted drugs--did not violate the Dormant Commerce Clause. The ruling ends the plaintiffs' challenge to the ordinance, with little chance of a rehearing en banc or Supreme Court review.
The case involves Alameda County's Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance, which requires any prescription drug producer who sells, offers for sale, or distributes drugs in the County to operate and finance a Product Stewardship Program. That means that the producer has to provide for the collection, transportation, and disposal of any unwanted prescription drug in the County, no matter which manufacturer made the drug. The plaintiffs, industry organizations, including a non-profit trade organization representing manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceutical products, challenged the Ordinance under the Dormant Commerce Clause.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed a lower court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the County. The court said that the Ordinance did not discriminate on its face or in application against out-of-state manufacturers--that it applied equally to all manufacturers, both in and out of the County. The court noted that three of PRMA's members had their headquarters or principal place of business, and two others had facilities, in Alameda County and so were effected equally by the Ordinance. This means that all the costs of the Ordinance weren't shifted outside the County (as the plaintiffs argued) and that at least some of those affected had a political remedy (and thus were not "restrained politically," as in United Haulers.)
The court then applied the balancing test in Pike v. Bruce Church, Inc., and concluded that the Ordinance's benefits (environmental, health, and safety benefits that were not contested on the cross-motions for summary judgment) outweighed any burden on interstate commerce (the plaintiffs provided no evidence of a burden on the interstate flow of goods).
This is almost certainly the end of the plaintiffs' challenge: the ruling is unlikely to get the attention of the en banc Ninth Circuit or the Supreme Court, if the plaintiffs seek rehearing or cert.
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The D.C. Circuit today rejected an Origination Clause challenge to the so-called individual mandate under the Affordable Care Act. The court also rejected a Commerce Clause challenge to the individual mandate. The ruling means that this long-shot case is dismissed.
The plaintiff in the case, Matt Sissel, argued that the individual mandate violated the Origination Clause. That Clause requires revenue-raising bills to originate in the House; it says,
All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.
Sissel argued that the ACA's individual mandate really originated in the Senate, not the House, and therefore violated the Clause.
The court summarily rejected that argument. The court said that the Supreme Court has given a narrow reading to the Origination Clause, applying it only to bills that "levy taxes in the strict sense of the word." But the court said that the taxing feature (or the revenue-raising feature) of the individual mandate was merely a by-product of the mandate, not the principal goal of the mandate--and therefore not a tax in the strict sence. Instead, the court said, the mandate was designed to help achieve universal health care coverage, not principally to raise revenue:
The purposive approach embodied in Supreme Court precedent necessarily leads to the conclusion that [the individual mandate] is not a "Bill for raising Revenue" under the Origination Clause. . . . And after the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB, it is beyond dispute that the paramount aim of the Affordable Care Act is "to increase the number of Americans covered by health insurance and decrease the cost of health care," not to raise revenue by means of the shared responsibility payment.
The court also rejected Sissel's Commerce Clause argument, ruling that the this argument was foreclosed by the Supreme Court's decision in NFIB, which upheld the individual mandate as a valid measure under Congress's taxing power. The court rejected Sissel's argument that his election not to purchase insurance was a violation of federal law (and therefore the federal requirement violated the Commerce Clause). Instead, the court said that under NFIB Sissel had a choice: buy insurance, or pay a tax. That's a valid exercise of the taxing power (even if it has a regulatory effect), and Sissel's argument under the Commerce Clause misses the mark.
The ruling is just the latest in a line of cases challenging different aspects of the Affordable Care Act. It's an important victory for the ACA, even if not a particularly surprising one.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
The Fourth Circuit ruled this week in Montgomery County, Maryland v. Federal National Mortgage Association that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac enjoy statutory immunity certain state and local taxes--and that this congressionally granted immunity is not unconstitutional.
The ruling is a rejection of some of the more aggressive states'-rights theories that we've heard in other contexts. It underscores federal supremacy, even in the area of state and local taxes. It's not a surprising ruling, but the court's flat rejection of certain of the plaintiffs' states-rights arguments is notable.
The case arose out of Fannie's and Freddie's refusal to pay state and local transfer and recording taxes on foreclosed properties that they sought to sell. Fannie and Freddie cited their federal statutory exemption, which exempts Fannie and Freddie generally from state and local taxes, "except that any real property of [either entity] shall be subject to State, territorial, county, municipal, or local taxation to the same extent as other real property is taxed."
The court distinguished between property taxes (not exempt under the statute) and transfer taxes (exempt) and ruled that Fannie and Freddie were exempt under the plain language.
But that's not the interesting part. The court also ruled that Congress had authority to grant the exemption, and that it didn't run afoul of federalism principles.
The court rejected the plaintiffs' contention that Fannie's and Freddie's property sales were local in nature, and therefore outside Congress's Commerce Clause authority. "In this case, the overall statutory schemes establishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are clearly directed at the regulation of interstate economic activity." The court also rejected the novel contention that the sweep of congressional authority here should be judged under a strict scrutiny standard (and not traditional rational basis review), because the exemption intruded into an area of state sovereignty. "The Counties' analogy to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments fails because there is not independent constitutional protection for the States' right to tax."
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' contentions that the exemption violated federalism principles. The court said that the exemption didn't commandeer states or state officials, that it didn't violate the Tenth Amendment (because Congress acted within its Commerce Clause authority), and that Congress can exempt non-government entities like Fannie and Freddie.
Monday, December 2, 2013
The Supreme Court today declined to review a Fourth Circuit ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act's employer mandate. Our post on the Fourth Circuit ruling is here.
The order rejecting cert. means that the Fourth Circuit ruling stays on the books and that the Supreme Court won't take on the employer mandate (now, and likely ever). The Obama administration delayed implementation of the mandate (sparking bills in Congress and lawsuits to override the delay); it's now scheduled to go into effect in 2015 (and not January 1, 2014, as the law seems to require).
Recall that the Fourth Circuit ruled in Liberty University v. Lew that Congress had authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Taxing Clause to impose a mandate on employers to provide health insurance to employees. The case was notable, because it held that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to impose the employer mandate, even though five justices on the Supreme Court ruled in NFIB v. Sebelius that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to impose the individual mandate. The Fourth Circuit said that in enacting the employer mandate Congress wasn't creating commerce to regulate it (as Chief Justice Roberts wrote in NFIB about the individual mandate). Instead, the Fourth Circuit said that the employer mandate was just another federal regulation on the terms and conditions of employment between an employee and an employer, who is already in interstate commerce.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The Veterans Day Off Bill, reintroduced by Congressperson Bruce Braley of Iowa this year would require employers with more than 50 employees to give any veteran Veterans Day off, with or without pay. The bill includes an exemption for cases in which the day off would negatively impact public health or safety, or cause significant economic or operational disruption.
First, there could be an equality challenge. Nonveterans could challenge the law as a denial of the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment. Certainly the law would be making a classification between veterans and nonveterans. However, this classification receives receives the lowest level of scrutiny from the courts: the government would have the legitimate interest of "honoring veterans" and a single day off, that could be without pay, would most likely be reasonable. It would be similar to veterans preferences in government employment which have been held constitutional, even though they have a disparate negative impact on women, as in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1979.
Second, there could be a challenge to Congressional power to require private employers to allow employees a day off. Requirements that private employers do not practice race or sex discrimination, or comply with wage and hour laws, or provide family medical leave, have all been held constitutional. This law would be similar to those laws, as well as the the federal law protecting employment for those serving in the military, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The Bill does not apply to employees working for state governments where the Eleventh Amendment could serve as a potential bar to lawsuits seeking to vindicate rights.
Lastly, should the United States Supreme Court ever recognize that secular for-profit corporations have a free exercise of religion right under the First Amendment, the future could bring a challenge by the major shareholders of a corporation that sells sequins or makes kitchen cabinets or sells groceries on the basis that the shareholders are Quakers, for example, who have a sincere and deeply held pacifist religious belief that would be burdened by being mandated to support a day off for someone who had participated in the activities of war.
[image: The Afghanistan-Iraq War Memorial in Salem, Oregon, via]
Thursday, October 24, 2013
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Colon Health Centers of America v. Hazel that two out-of-state medical providers alleged a sufficient challenge to Virginia's "certificate of need" requirement to survive a motion to dismiss. The court remanded the case for fact-finding on the dormant Commerce Clause question.
The court suggested that the requirement wouldn't ultimately survive. The case, when it comes back to the Fourth Circuit after remand, may be significant, if, as the concurrence says, "in Virginia, and throughout much of the country, state certificate of need regimens continue to grow and now regulate an enormous segment of the national economy." Op. at 27-28.
Virginia's certificate-of-need program requires medical providers that seek to launch a medical enterprise in the state to show a public need for the service that it seeks to offer. (Judge Wilson puts a finer point on it in dissent: "Plaintiffs would like to render medical services in Virginia with equipment they cannot utilize without first proving to the Commonwealth that the competition they bring with them will not harm established local health care providers.") The plaintiffs, two corporations that provide colon screening and treatment, alleged that the program violates the dormant Commerce Clause (among other constitutional claims, rejected by both the district court and the Fourth Circuit).
The court ruled that the plaintiffs alleged sufficient facts to survive a motion to dismiss and to trigger discovery and fact-investigation by the trial court. The court gave unusually specific directions to the trial court to find facts on the program's discrimination against interstate commerce in purpose and effect, recognizing that this fact investigation would also spill over into the lower-level balancing test under the dormant Commerce Clause for state laws that create an undue burden on interstate commerce.
Friday, September 27, 2013
The Eighth Circuit this week in Southern Wine and Spirits of America, Inc. v. Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control upheld Missouri's requirement that liquor wholesalers reside in Missouri against a dormant Commerce Clause challenge. The ruling means that Missouri's law stays on the books, at least for now.
The case pitted the equal treatment requirement of the dormant Commerce Clause against the state's authority to regulate alcohol under the Twenty-first Amendment. In the Supreme Court's last foray into that area, in Granholm v. Heald, the Court struck a state law allowing in-state wineries to ship their products directly to in-state consumers, but requiring out-of-state wineries to sell through wholesalers. The law meant that in-state wineries could sell their wine at lower costs. The Court said that "the Twenty-first Amendment does not supersede other provisions of the Constitution and, in particular, does not displace the [dormant Commerce Clause] rule that States may not give a discriminatory preference to their own producers."
But the Supreme Court also noted that its holding didn't call into question the constitutionality of the three-tier distribution system set by the state--producers, wholesalers, and retailers. In particular, it wrote (in dicta) that the three-tier distribution system is "unquestionably legitimate" and that the system includes the "licensed in-state wholesaler." It also wrote that state policies that define the structure of the liquor distribution system--and that give equal treatment to in-state and out-of-state liquor products and producers--are "protected under the Twenty-first Amendment."
Missouri's law requires wholesalers to be "resident corporation[s]." That means that the corporation has to be incorporated under Missouri law, all of its officers and directors must be residents of Missouri for at least three years, and resident stockholders must own at least 60 percent. The law has a grandfather clause, exempting licensed wholesalers as of January 1, 1947. (There is currently just one such wholesaler.)
The Eighth Circuit upheld the law against the dormant Commerce Clause challenge. In particular, the court held that there was no evidence of protectionist intent. And it said that under Granholm the law didn't discriminate against out-of-state products or producers, and that under Granholm states could require wholesalers to be "in-state."
The court held that Missouri's law easily passed the "deferential scrutiny" that Granholm says applies to state policies defining the distribution system. It said that the legislature could have believed that a wholesaler governed by Missouri residents might be more socially responsible and promote temperance, and that Missouri residents might be more likely to respond to concerns of the community. The court also said that the legislature could have concluded that in-state residency promotes law enforcement.
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Third Circuit panel this week in NCAA v. Governor of New Jersey upheld the federal law prohibiting states from licensing sports gambling against a challenge that it exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, impermissibly commandeered the states, and violated the principle of equal sovereignty among the states.
The case was a significant test of congressional authority after NFIB v. Sebelius (upholding the ACA's individual mandate under congressional taxing authority, but ruling that it exceeded congressional Commerce Clause authority) and a significant test of the principle of equal sovereignty among the states after Shelby County v. Holder (ruling that the preclearance formula in the Voting Rights Act violated the principle of equal sovereignty among the states and exceeded congressional authority under the Fifteenth Amendment).
The Third Circuit panel rejected both arguments--and the commandeering argument, too--and upheld the federal prohibition. (The court also ruled that the plaintiffs, sports leagues, had standing to challenge the New Jersey law--in part because the law was directed at them (even if indirectly) and because they would have suffered a reputational injury by association with gambling.)
sponsor, operate, advertise, or promote . . . a lottery, sweepstakes, or other betting, gambling, or wagering scheme based directly or indirectly (through the use of geographical references or otherwise), on one or more competitive games in which amateur or professional athletes participate, or are intended to participate, or on one or more performances of such athletes in such games.
Friday, July 12, 2013
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit upheld the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The ruling in Liberty University v. Lew deals a significant blow to challengers of the Act's requirement that large employers provide affordable health care coverage to full-time employees and dependents or pay a fine. Unless and until it's appealed to the full Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court--and unless and until one or the other reverses--the ruling upholds the employer mandate.
The ruling is notable, because it says that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the employer mandate. (Recall that five Justices on the Supreme Court said last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius that Congress exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the individual mandate.) What's the difference? See below.
The case is a hold-over from the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. Recall that the Court in that case held that the Anti-Injunction Act did not bar a the suit challenging the individual mandate, and that the individual mandate was a valid exercise of Congress's taxing power. The Court also remanded Liberty University to the Fourth Circuit for a ruling consistent with NFIB. (The Fourth Circuit previously held that the Anti-Injunction Act deprived it of jurisdiction to rule on the merits and dismissed the case.)
The Fourth Circuit followed NFIB's lead and ruled that the employer mandate (like the individual mandate in NFIB) was not a "tax" for purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. (The court also ruled that Liberty University had standing to lodge its pre-enforcement challenge of the employer mandate, and that the individual named plaintiffs had standing to challenge the individual mandate.)
On the merits, the court ruled that the employer mandate is a valid exercise of Congress's Commerce Clause authority. (Recall that five members of the Supreme Court in NFIB said that the individual mandate exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause authority, even if it fell within Congress's taxation power.) What's the difference between the employer mandate and the individual mandate? In short, unlike individuals who have not purchased health insurance, employers operate in interstate commerce, and health insurance is part of their employees' compensation package, which itself is regulable under the Commerce Clause. The Fourth Circuit explained:
To begin, we note that unlike the individual mandate . . . the employer mandate does not seek to create commerce in order to regulate it. In contrast to individuals, all employers are, by their very nature, engaged in economic activity. All employers are in the market for labor. And to the extent that the employer mandate compels employers in interstate commerce to do something, it does not compel them to "become active in commerce," [NFIB, emphasis in original]; it merely "regulate[s] existing commercial activity," id., i.e., the compensation of employees . . . .
Further, contrary to Liberty's assertion, the employer mandate does not require employers to "purchase an unwanted product." . . . Although some employers may have to increase employee compensation (by offering new or modified health insurance coverage), employers are free to self-insure, and many do.
(Interestingly, the court dropped a footnote, note 7, that says, "We express no opinion as to whether the limitation on the commerce power announced by five justices in NFIB constitutes a holding of the Court." We covered that topic here.)
Following NFIB, the court also upheld the individual mandate under Congress's taxing power, and applied that ruling to uphold the employer mandate under Congress's taxing power.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' religion claims--based on the First and Fifth Amendments (equal protection) and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
July 12, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Religion, Taxing Clause | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, April 15, 2013
The Roberts Court majority is avoiding taxes: not the income taxes revealed by the returns due today, April 15, but the constitutional scrutiny that taxes deserve.
Law Prof Linda Sugin (pictured left), in her article The Great and Mighty Tax Law: How the Roberts Court Has Reduced Constitutional Scrutiny of Taxes and Tax Expenditures, draft available on ssrn, analyzes two cases that are not typically paired.
First, she considers National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, in which, as she describes it, Justice Roberts' "newly muscular tax law saved Obamacare from near death at the hands of the Commerce Clause."
Second, she examines Arizona Christian Schools v. Winn, in which, as dhe describes it, the majority "adopted a novel judicial approach to targeted tax benefits" and denied standing in an Establishment Clause challenge.
Sugin argues that these two cases, taken together, "challenge the revenue-raising role of the tax law, and give it tremendous potential to overcome constitutional obstacles that legislatures face," including state legislatures. She contends that the cases "introduce confusion into the law of taxation by incentivizing the adoption of more non-revenue policy in the tax law, and blurring the conceptual structure of taxation." She claims that "these decisions undermine the important work on tax reform and fiscal responsibility that other branches of government are doing." Ultimately, she argues that these decisions portend that "policies administered through the tax law" will be deemed constitutional "even where those same policies would be unconstitutional if administered as either direct regulation or appropriated spending."
Worth a read and not only on "tax day."
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The New York Court of Appeals today upheld a state statutory presumption that internet retailer "associates" operating within the state provide a sufficient nexus for the state to collect sales tax on the retailer's state sales. The ruling approves New York's end-run around the dormant Commerce Clause rule that a state can impose a sales tax on an out-of-state retailer only if the retailer has a physical presence--including economic activities by the retailer's employees, but not mere advertising.
With the rapid growth of internet sales across state lines, and with the last Supreme Court ruling on anything like this coming as far back as 1992 (on mail-order sales, of all things), this case may be a good candidate for high court review.
But on the other hand, the precise ruling in the case is rather limited. That's because the plaintiffs in the case pressed only their facial challenge at the Court of Appeals, not an as applied challenge. The problem here is that the statutory presumption can be rebutted, and an out-of-state retailer that can rebut it will also be exempt from it. This gives the presumption some wiggle room in certain cases and may be enough to protect out-of-state retailers against state sales taxes when they don't have sufficient business activity to constitute presence. The Court's ruling only says that the statutory presumption is not unconstitutional on its face. That's a far cry from saying that it's constitutional in every application.
The case, Overstock.com v. New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, tests New York's statutory presumption that an out-of-state internet retailer's in-state "associate" is soliciting business for the retailer:
a person making sales of tangible personal property or services taxable under this article ("seller") shall be presumed to be soliciting business through an independent contractor or other representative if the seller enters into an agreement with a resident of this state under which the resident, for a commission or other consideration, directly or indirectly refers potential customers, whether by a link on an internet website or otherwise, to the seller . . . .
New York Tax Law Sec. 1101(b)(8)(vi). The provision exactly describes Amazon's and Overstock.com's "associates"--local web-sites that include links to Amazon.com or Overstock.com and that receive a commission on each purchase through that link.
But neither Amazon nor Overstock.com has a physical presence in New York. And according to the Supreme Court in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), an out-of-state retailer like Amazon or Overstock.com has to have a physical presence in order for New York to impose a tax. (Quill Corp. involved an out-of-state mail order retailer. If you don't know what that is (!), click here.) Physical presence includes engaging in economic activities (like selling goods), but not advertising alone.
Enter the statutory presumption. The presumption says that Amazon's and Overstock.com's "associates"--those New York-based web-sites that contain a link to Amazon or Overstock.com, and receive a commission on each sale--establish a sufficient nexus between the out-of-state retailers and the state so that New York can impose its tax.
And the New York Court of Appeals OK'd it. The Court said that the retailers' associates were engaged in sufficient economic activity on behalf of the out-of-state retailers--business solicitation, and not mere advertising--to allow the state to tax.
Judge Smith dissented. He thought that the associates' links looked more like mere advertising, not business solicitation, and therefore weren't enough to establish a nexus between the retailers and the state.
The Court also rejected the retailers' due process claims, because the presumption is rational. The Court explained:
It is plainly rational to presume that, given the direct correlation between referrals and compensation, it is likely that residents will seek to increase their referrals by soliciting customers. More specifically, it is not unreasonable to presume that affiliated website owners residing in New York State will reach out to their New York friends, relatives, and other local individuals in order to accomplish this purpose.
Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Supreme court heard oral arguments yesterday in McBurney v. Young, a case testing whether a state's freedom of information law, or FOIA, can limit access to government information to its own citizens consistent with the Article IV Privileges and Immunities Clause and the Dormant Commerce Clause. (Together these provisions restrict states in discriminating against out-of-staters in the exercise of fundamental rights or important economic interests, or in interstate commerce.) The case was brought by two out-of-staters against Virginia after the state denied them access to records related to the state's enforcement of a child support order and state property records collected for clients as part of a business. Virginia is one of only three states that restricts its FOIA records to in-staters.
The case is tough, because it's not obvious that Virginia's restriction is a restriction on interstate commerce (in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause), and it's not obvious that the access that the petitioners seek is the kind of right that they, as out-of-staters, should enjoy with respect to Virginia.
The questions from the bench went right to these points. The Court was concerned about whether Virginia's restriction was, in fact, a restriction on commerce, or whether it was merely a law, not a commercial regulation, that had at most an incidental effect on interstate commerce. (The Dormant Commerce Clause points go to the property-records seeker, not the child-support seeker.) In other words: does the Dormant Commerce Clause even apply, given that this may not be a regulation of commerce?
Justices were also concerned about the magnitude of the effect, on both sides. As to the petitioners, they wondered why the cost to the petitioner wasn't negligible. After all, any out-of-stater could simply hire an in-stater for a nominal fee to file their request and thus dodge the restriction. As to the state, they wondered why the cost to the state in providing equal access to its records was significant. The burden of addition requests from out-of-staters didn't seem to be much.
Finally the Justices wondered whether Virginia shouldn't be allowed to restrict access to its records, given that its law is designed to provide access to government information to ensure good government--a concern that applies uniquely to Virginians. On this point, several Justices compared the right to access to the right to vote, and noted that out-of-staters don't get it. In short: Shouldn't Virginia be able to keep its records to its own state citizens? The question goes at least in part to the purpose of Virginia's FOIA--to provide information on governance (as the state would have it), or to restrict information in restraint of free trade (as the petitioner argued).
The parties didn't provide terrific answers to any of these questions. But counsel for the petitioner did note that the challenge was as applied, not facial. This could allow the Court to rule narrowly in favor of this individual, without overturning the restriction as to anyone else. But even that result seems likely only if the Court can get over two threshold problems. First, the restriction is not a direct discriminatory regulation of interstate commerce (even if it may have an indirect effect on interstate commerce in this case). Next, Virginia is certainly able to restrict some of its state functions to its own citizens. The question for the Court: Is this one of them?
February 21, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Dormant Commerce Clause, Federalism, News, Privileges and Immunities, Privileges and Immunities: Article IV | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 14, 2013
The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case asking whether Congress had authority to require a sex offender who already served out his sentence to later register when he moved within a single state. The case comes three years on the heels of United States v. Comstock, another case involving congressional authority over federal criminals after their sentences have run, and one suggesting expansive congressional authority. (Comstock held that Congress had authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to designate federal prisoners as "sexually dangerous" and to detain them even beyond their original sentence.) It also comes just one year after the Court's sharply divided and controversial ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius, the ACA/Obamacare challenge defining a limit on congressional authority and holding that Congress lacked authority under the Commerce Clause to require individuals to purchase health insurance. (NFIB also held that Congress had authority under its taxing power to require individuals to purchase health insurance.) This case, United States v. Kebodeaux, thus gives the Roberts Court yet another important opportunity to define congressional authority and to read that authority as relatively broad (as in Comstock) or to find an important limit (as in NFIB--even if a different limit than the Court found in that case).
Kebodeaux involves a challenge to the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, or SORNA. SORNA, enacted in July 2006, requires sex offenders to register in the jurisdiction where they live. It requires states to adopt specified federal standards for registration as a condition of receipt of federal funds.
Kebodeaux, a convicted sex offender who served out his sentence and was released from prison "unconditionally" (the Fifth Circuit's word), was convicted of violating SORNA by failing to register when he moved from El Paso to San Antonio. Kebodeaux challenged his conviction on appeal, arguing that Congress lacked authority to penalize his failure to register in a purely intrastate move, because he had served his full sentence and was released by the time Congress enacted the registration requirement in SORNA.
The en banc Fifth Circuit agreed. It ruled that Congress had no authority over Kebodeaux when he made an intrastate move after he served out his full sentence. In short, the court said that the period of time between Kebodeaux's release and Congress's enactment of the registration requirement in SORNA broke the chain linking congressional authority and Kebodeaux, and Kebodeaux did not re-establish that chain (by way of the Commerce Clause) by crossing state lines. The court distinguished Comstock on exactly that basis: in Comstock, the federal government still had physical control over federal prisoners designated "sexually dangerous," even if they were literally on their way out of the federal prison, and thus had authority to regulate them by ordering their continued detention; here, in contrast, the federal government had no control over Kebodeaux.
Kebodeaux's facts go beyond those in Comstock, however, because this case is not merely about whether Congress can regulate the activity of someone still in federal custody past the expiry of his sentence. Importantly, it raises the further question whether Congress can regulate his activity solely because he was once convicted of a federal crime.
Op. at 6.
The court also worries that this authority would know no bounds and would intrude into areas of state regulation. And it worries that there is no authority, "from more than two hundred years of precedent, for the proposition that it can reassert jurisdiction over someone it had long ago unconditionally released from custody just because he once committed a federal crime." Op. at 9.
If these worries sound familiar, it's because similar worries drove the opponents of the ACA/Obamacare, and ultimately even the Court, in ruling that Congress exceeded its Commerce Clause authority in enacting the universal coverage provision, or the so-called individual mandate, in NFIB v. Sebelius. Many of us didn't see this coming in NFIB. A similar limit on congressional authority may be creeping up on us now.
On the other hand, the panel decision and sharp dissents in the Fifth Circuit en banc ruling argued that Comstock supported congressional authority to apply SORNA's registration requirements to Kebodeaux. This case could well follow Comstock and (again) highlight expansive congressional authority over those once in federal control.
Either way, Comstock, the sleeper of OT2009, will play a key role in the outcome. And the case will give us one more important datapoint to plot the trajectory of congressional authority under the Roberts Court.
Friday, November 30, 2012
The Sixth Circuit ruled in American Beverage Association v. Snyder that Michigan's requirement that returnable beverage containers bear a unique mark violated the Dormant Commerce Clause. The ruling strikes Michigan's requirement.
The ruling turns on the dormant Commerce Clause's "extraterritorial doctrine," which, according to one concurring judge on the panel, is "a relic of the old world with no useful role to play in the new[.]" If so, this case could offer the Supreme Court a good chance to clean up this corner of the dormant Commerce Clause.
The case involves Michigan's bottle-deposit law, which requires consumers to pay a ten-cent deposit on a beverage container (like a can or bottle). Containers sold in Michigan must bear a designation--"MI 10c"--in order to distinguish them from containers sold in other states. Consumers who return a container with the "MI 10c" designation get a ten-cent deposit back when they return the container. (Michigan is one of ten states with a bottle-deposit law.)
Some consumers discovered that they could return containers in Michigan that were purchased from states that have no deposit law (that is, non-"MI 10c" containers) and net ten cents on each return. This was especially easy with "reverse vending machines"--automated return machines that did not distinguish between Michigan containers and out-of-state containers.
The Michigan legislature responded by requiring beverage manufacturers to place a unique mark on Michigan returnable containers (in addition to the "MI 10c" mark) that would allow a reverse vending machine to determine whether the container was, in fact, a Michigan returnable container. Failure to comply could result in a penalty of up to six months' imprisonment or a $2,000 fine or both.
Manufacturers sued, arguing that the requirement amount to an unconstitutional restraint on interstate commerce in violation of the dormant Commerce Clause.
The Sixth Circuit agreed. It ruled that while the requirement did not discriminate against interstate commerce (on its face, in its purpose, or in its effect), it did "directly control commerce occurring wholly outside the boundaries of a State," and thus was extraterritorial under Healy v. Beer Inst. Inc. (1989). This doctrine renders extraterritorial regulation "virtually per se invalid under the dormant Commerce Clause." Op. at 13.
Judge Sutton concurred but wrote separately "to express skepticism about the extraterritoriality doctrine." Judge Sutton wrote that the doctrine may have outlived its usefulness.
Monday, November 26, 2012
The Supreme Court today reopened one of the cases challenging the federal Affordable Care Act and sent it back for further proceedings at the Fourth Circuit. The move means that the lower court, and possibly the Supreme Court, will have another crack at certain issues that the Supreme Court dodged this summer in its ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius.
Recall that the Fourth Circuit rejected a challenge to the ACA by several individuals and Liberty University in September 2011, holding that the Anti-Injunction Act barred the claim. The Supreme Court declined to review that case, Liberty University v. Geithner. But today the Court reopened the case, vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling, and sent the case back for further proceedings in light of the Court's ruling in NFIB.
The plaintiffs in the case originally challenged the universal coverage provision (the so-called "individual mandate," requiring individuals to acquire health insurance or to pay a tax penalty) and the employer mandate (requiring employers with more than 50 employees to provide health insurance coverage for their employees), arguing that they exceeded Congress's taxing and commerce powers and violated the Tenth Amendment, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes (the Direct Tax Clause), and the Religion Clauses and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (among others). (As to the Religion Clauses, the plaintiffs argued that the requirements would cause them to support insurance companies that paid for abortions, a practice that they claimed ran against their religions.)
The district court ruled against the plaintiffs on all counts and dismissed the case. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the case under the AIA and didn't reach the merits.
The Supreme Court ruled in NFIB that the AIA did not bar the Court from ruling on the tax question, that Congress validly enacted the universal coverage provision under its Article I, Section 8 power "to lay and collect Taxes," and that it didn't violate the Direct Tax Clause. Thus after NFIB these issues appear to remain open on remand:
- Whether the mandates violate the Religion Clauses or the RFRA;
- Whether the employer mandate violates the taxing authority or the Direct Tax Clause;
- Whether the mandates violate equal protection;
- Whether the mandate violates free speech and associational rights.
As to the Religion Clauses, the district court ruled that the ACA's religious exemptions to universal coverage were permissible accommodations (and thus didn't violate the Establishment Clause) and that the ACA didn't require the plaintiffs to pay for abortions (and thus didn't violate the Free Exercise Clause or the RFRA).
As to the employer mandate: It's hard to see how the Supreme Court's tax analysis of the individual mandate in NFIB wouldn't apply with equal force to the employer mandate.
If the district court was right on the First Amendment and equal protection claims (as it seems), and if the Supreme Court's tax analysis applies with equal force to the employer mandate, this case doesn't seem to have much of a future.
But then again, that's what many of us said about NFIB.
November 26, 2012 in Abortion, Association, Cases and Case Materials, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Religion, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
With the election of Elizabeth Warren to the United States Senate, today might a good time to reread her article Unsafe at Any Rate, published in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas in 2007.
Warren was arguing for the creation of a new federal agency, the Financial Product Safety Commission. In doing so, she not only argued in favor of regulation (using an originalist argument among others), but also argued that federal regulation was appropriate:
The credit industry is not without regulation; credit transactions have been regulated by statute or common law since the founding of the Republic. Traditionally, states bore the primary responsibility for protecting their citizens from unscrupulous lenders, imposing usury caps and other credit regulations on all companies doing business locally. While states still play some role, particularly in the regulation of real-estate transactions, their primary tool–interest rate regulation–has been effectively destroyed by federal legislation. Today, any lender that gets a federal bank charter can locate its operations in a state with high usury rates (e.g., South Dakota or Delaware), then export that states’ interest rate caps (or no caps at all) to customers located all over the country. As a result, and with no public debate, interest rates have been effectively deregulated across the country, leaving the states powerless to act. In April of this year, the Supreme Court took another step in the same direction in Watters v. Wachovia, giving federal regulators the power to shut down state efforts to regulate mortgage lenders without providing effective federal regulation to replace it.
Recall that in Watters, the Court found no merit in the Supremacy Clause (preemption) and Tenth Amendment arguments.
Warren also argued that a federal agency could intervene more successfully than Congress because "the financial services industry is routinely one of the top three contributors to national political campaigns, giving $133 million over the past five years" and thus "the likelihood of quick action to respond to specific problems and to engage in meaningful oversight is vanishingly slim."
Although Congress eventually passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, with a FPSC agency, Elizabeth Warren was not named as its head given strong opposition to her by the Senate - the legislative body she will now be joining.
[image: Elizabeth Warren via]
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Professor Colin Starger has a terrific visual for teaching the commerce clause next semester:
Take a look at the entire "poster" available on ssrn here; the explanations are necessary and excellent.
Monday, July 2, 2012
What did Chief Justice Roberts do to the Necessary and Proper Clause in last week's ruling on the universal coverage provision of the Affordable Care Act?
Not much. Here's why.
Let's start with the opinion. Chief Justice Roberts wrote last week that universal coverage--the so-called individual mandate--exceeded Congress's authority under both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause (although he wrote for a five-Justice majority that it fell within congressional taxing authority). (We wrote here about the Chief's opinion on the Commerce Clause.) In so writing, the Chief rejected the government's argument that because Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the guaranteed issue and community rating provisions, it also had authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause to enact universal coverage. After all, everybody agreed that guaranteed issue and community rating alone wouldn't work; they needed an individual mandate.
(Here's a primer. Guaranteed issue requires insurance companies to provide insurance to all comers. Community rating control premium rates within a particular community. Under these provisions, insurance companies will have to cover everyone (including those with high medical costs), within a range of premium rates. But when an insurance company covers everyone (including those with high medical costs), premiums go up. And when premiums go up, without an ability to discriminate, individuals are driven out of the market. Thus, guaranteed issue and community rating will drive up costs and drive down coverage. Unless, that is, individuals are required to buy insurance. If everybody has to buy insurance, the cost-distribution within the insurance pool will keep rates low (because the healthy, in effect, subsidize the unhealthy through the pool), and coverage (obviously) goes up.)
Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the Necessary and Proper Clause wasn't so malleable. He wrote that while universal coverage may be "necessary," it is not "proper," because universal coverage "draw[s] within its regulatory scope those who would otherwise be outside of it." Op. at 30. In other words, individuals are not the subject of the guaranteed issue and community rating regulations (insurance companies are); they are therefore not within the regulatory scope of valid congressional regulation under the Commerce Clause; and they are therefore outside of the scope of the Necessary and Proper Clause. Op. at 29-30. The Chief wrote that the Court's prior cases blessed congressional action under the Necessary and Proper Clause only when the subject of regulation under the Necessary and Proper Clause was already in the regulatory scope of congressional regulation under its principal Article I power. Here's how he described it:
The individual mandate, by contrast, vests Congress with the extraordinary ability to create the necessary predicate to the exercise of an enumerated power. This is in no way an authority that is "narrow in scope" . . . or "incidental" to the exercise of the commerce power. Rather, such a conception of the Necessary and Proper Clause would work a substantial expansion of federal authority. No longer would Congress be limited to regulating under the Commerce Clause those who by some preexisting activity bring themselves within the sphere of federal regulation. Instead, Congress could reach beyond the natural limit of its authority and draw within its regulatory scope those who otherwise would be outside of it. Even if the individual mandate is "necessary" to the Act's insurance reforms, such an expansion of federal power is not a "proper" means for making those reforms effective.
Op. at 29-30.
So, what's the effect of the Chief's opinion on the Necessary and Proper Clause? Very little.
There are two problems. The first one is exactly the same problem with the Chief's opinion on the Commerce Clause, only here it's even more pronounced. That is: the opinion may well be dicta, and, even if it's not, it doesn't have strong support as a guiding opinion under the Marks rule. Like Chief Justice Roberts's opinion on the Commerce Clause, his opinion on the Necessary and Proper Clause is not necessary to the Court's conclusion. Moreover, he's writing just for himself. The four "liberals" would have upheld universal coverage under the Necessary and Proper Clause. And the four other "conservatives" declined to join the Chief--and were in even sharper disagreement with him than they were on the Commerce Clause. (The four other conservatives would apparently read the Necessary and Proper Clause as allowing only regulation that is absolutely necessary to the named Article I powers--a reading that flies in the face of McCulloch v. Maryland and the Clause's entire history. Dissent, at 9-10.)
Moreover, the Chief's analysis is weak and apparently disavowed by all on the Court (though for different reasons), further alienating and weakening it. Chief Justice Roberts supports his new Necessary and Proper rule--that Congress can regulate only those things already within the regulatory scope--by describing the Court's prior Necessary and Proper cases. But while his description may be accurate on the facts, it is not supported by the language and analysis of those rulings. For example, the Court just two terms ago ruled in Comstock that the Necessary and Proper Clause allowed congress to authorize the detention of federal prisoners beyond their release date if they were deemed "sexually dangerous." Why? Because the Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to enact federal criminal law (in furtherance of its named Article I powers), and therefore to sentence offenders, and therefore to jail offenders, and therefore to keep dangerous offenders off the streets, even after their release dates--all in the name of the Necessary and Proper Clause.
Now it turns out that offenders were already within the regulatory scheme. But the Court's ruling did not turn on that, and, in fact, nowhere mentioned it. Instead, the Court said, quoting the usual language from McCulloch, that the Necessary and Proper Clause authorized Congress to take any action that was rationally related to its enumerated powers.
(The Court's opinion in Comstock was written by Justice Breyer. And Chief Justice Roberts joined it in full, even though he could have signed on with one of two more restrictive concurrences, written by Justice Kennedy and Justice Alito.)
In short, nothing in Comstock, or the Court's other Necessary and Proper decisions, sets out Chief Justice Roberts's new rule. It's just his gloss. And one, apparently, that nobody else on the Court subscribes to in his way and for his reasons.
But assuming that the courts treat the Chief's opinion as (at least) guiding, however--as they likely will--the second problem is that the Chief's opinion is quite narrow and thus only applicable to a small set of cases, if any. After all: How often does Congress seek to regulate something under the Necessary and Proper Clause that isn't within the regulatory scheme of its power-in-chief? By the Chief Justice's own reckoning: The Court has never seen this case.
And even if the Chief's opinion is guiding, courts must read it alongside Justice Breyer's majority opinion in Comstock--the Court's next-most recent foray into the Necessary and Proper Clause, and, again, an opinion that Chief Justice Roberts signed in full. Read alongside the expansive and capacious Necessary and Proper Clause described in Comstock, Chief Justice Roberts's new rule seems a narrow exception, indeed. Chief Justice Roberts did nothing last week to chip away at that expansive and capacious Clause; in fact, his opinion last week reaffirmed its long-standing principles (just as his opinion on the Commerce Clause reaffirmed the Court's broadest interpretations of that Clause).
In the end, the Chief's opinions on both the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause are almost certainly moot, anyway. The real story of the case is Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion upholding universal coverage under the tax power. Any future Congress seeking to enact legislation that would push up against Chief Justice Roberts's new rules for the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause would do well to simply enact the policy as a tax penalty.