Wednesday, June 29, 2011
A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit today upheld the individual health insurance mandate in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) under Congress's Commerce Clause authority. The ruling affirmed District Judge Steeh's earlier ruling in the case, Thomas More Law Center v. Obama.
The panel split on a couple issues. Here are the highlights of the opinion:
Commerce Clause Authority: Two of the three judges, Judge Martin and Judge Sutton, agreed that Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to enact the individual mandate. But they agreed for slightly different reasons--see below. Judge Graham disagreed.
Regulating Action versus Regulating Inaction: Given the play this distinction has received in litigation and in public debates, this is the most important--and most interesting--part of the case. All three judges agreed that there's no constitutional line between activity and inactivity--and that there's therefore no per se restriction on Congress regulating inactivity. While they agreed on this point for slightly different reasons, they all seemed to agree (at least) that the text of the Constitution does not support the distiction. Beyond that, they had just slightly different reasons for rejecting the distinction, mostly focusing on how it doesn't square against the Court's Commerce Clause precedents and how it's unworkable in practice.
Outside the Market: Judges Martin and Sutton agreed, again for different reasons, that those who decline to purchase health insurance are nevertheless part of the market--the market for national health care--because they self-insure for the cost of health care services. Judge Graham disagreed. He wrote that those who self-insure (and again, the "inactivity" didn't give him a constitutional bother), are not a part of the relevant market--the market for health insurance.
Taxing Authority: Judges Sutton and Graham agreed that the tax penalty goes beyond congressional authority under the General Welfare Clause. Judge Sutton wrote at length detailing why. Judge Martin (like Judge Steeh below) didn't reach this issue, because he concluded that the Commerce Clause adequately supported the individual mandate.
In all, the three opinions well reflect the array of arguments in this case (and in other cases, and in the public debate). Between the three, they reflect a spectrum--with Judge Martin ruling most clearly that Congress had authority under the Commerce Clause, Judge Martin ruling the same way but with a shade greater caution, and Judge Sutton ruling against.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
In acknowledgement of both baseball season and poem in your pocket day, Justice Harry Blackmun provides a pair of suitable footnotes.
Millions have known and enjoyed baseball. One writer knowledgeable in the field of sports almost assumed that everyone did until, one day, he discovered otherwise:
I knew a cove who'd never heard of Washington and Lee,
Of Caesar and Napoleon from the ancient jamboree,
But, bli'me, there are queerer things than anything like that,
For here's a cove who never heard of ‘Casey at the Bat’!
‘Ten million never heard of Keats, or Shelley, Burns or Poe;
But they know ‘the air was shattered by the force of Casey's blow’;
They never heard of Shakespeare, nor of Dickens, like as not,
But they know the somber drama from old Mudville's haunted lot.
‘He never heard of Casey! Am I dreaming? Is it true?
Is fame but windblown ashes when the summer day is through?
Does greatness fade so quickly and is grandeur doomed to die
That bloomed in early morning, ere the dusk rides down the sky
‘He Never Heard of Casey’ Grantland Rice, The Sportlight, New York Herald Tribune, June 1, 1926, p. 23.
‘These are the saddest of possible words,
‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.’
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are weighty with nothing but trouble:
‘Tinker to Evers to Chance.“
Franklin Pierce Adams, Baseball's Sad Lexicon.
The case is Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U.S. 258, 296 (1972), the baseball antitrust case, in which Justice Blackmun quotes the poems in his footnotes to capture America’s fondness for baseball. Later in the opinion which included more about the history of baseball, Blackmun wrote: ""In view of all this," it was appropriate to say that "professional baseball is a business and engaged in interstate commerce," although it is an "exception and an anomaly" and thus exempt from anti-trust laws, even as "football, boxing, basketball, and, presumably, hockey and golf are not so exempt."
There are footnotes for "hockey" and "golf" but they contain case citations, not poems.
with J. Zak Ritchie
[image: statute of Casey at the Bat, via]
Saturday, April 9, 2011
The passage of the Affordable Care Act in early 2010 has prompted a variety of constitutional challenges which we’ve covered extensively, including here and here. For ConLawProfs who like to frame their examinations around curent controversies, the Affordable Health Care Act provides an excellent opportunity.
A good background and refresher on federal power and federalism concerns is WVU College of Law Professor Gerald G. Ashdown 's article Federalism’s Floor, 80 Miss. L.J. 69, 74 (2010). Ashdown examines the Rehnquist Court’s movement toward limited federal power, and then attempts to explain why the federalism movement “seems to have bottomed out, or reached a floor on limiting the reach of federal power." In doing so, Ashdown frames his analysis with a discussion of several factors, including the “natural limits on the Court’s recent Commerce Clause, sovereign immunity, and Section 5 (of the Fourteenth Amendment) decisions; congressional use of the Spending Clause, and politics both outside and inside the Court.” Id.
First, Ashdown’s look at recent Commerce Clause cases brings his thesis into clearer focus. Most students of constitutional law are quite familiar with the decisions in United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison, cases which struck down federal enactments under a narrower application of the Commerce Clause. Students should be just as familiar with Gonzales v. Raich, a decision in which the court upheld the authority of Congress to regulate the intrastate production and use of marijuana under the aggregation theory of the Commerce Clause, best exemplified by the decision in Wickard v. Filburn. Ashdown writes that “Raich is a hard case, and although it did not necessarily produce bad law, it did produce weird, if not predictable, results—at least for federalism after Lopez and Morrison.” Id. at 77. Ultimately, Ashdown concludes that “[e]ven when the affecting commerce theory of Lopez and Morrison is relied upon, there seem to be practical and ideological barriers, illustrated by Raich, to limiting federal commerce authority. In other words, there are pragmatic barriers to further Court action restricting congressional power under the Commerce Clause.” Id. at 79-80.
Professor Ashdown turns next to the complex subject of sovereign immunity and the effect of Section 5 abrogation, writing that
[t]he combination of Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, which held that Congress could abrogate state sovereign immunity only under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment and not under the Commerce Clause, and City of Boerne v. Flores, interpreting Section 5 narrowly to disallow Congress from protecting “rights” more broadly than those identified by the Supreme Court, seemed to place substantial limits on the reach of federal authority over the states. Taken together, these cases mean that Congress only has Section 5 power to regulate state government and that the federal enactment must be a “congruent and proportional” remedy to a constitutional violation identified by the Court.
Id. at 80. Despite these barriers to expanded federal power, a more recent decision in Nevada Dep’t of Human Resources v. Hibbs, upheld the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because the Act was a proportional and congruent remedy to the historical discrimination by states on the basis of gender. Next, Professor Ashdown surveys Spending Clause jurisprudence, beginning with the key case of South Dakota v. Dole, where the Court upheld the federal requirement that states accepting highway funds must enact twenty-one-year-old drinking age laws or suffer loss of funding. While it upheld the restriction, the Court took note of some limits on conditional spending. “The Court’s own spending jurisprudence thus provides another barrier to judicial tinkering with the federalism balance,” according to Ashdown. Id. at 93. Finally, Ashdown observes the effects of national political processes on some federalism issues that reach the courts. The federal partial-birth abortion ban illustrates Ashdown’s point. “The pro-life, conservative side that normally would align with restraints on federal power naturally supported the statute, and the pro-choice group who opposed the Act evidently was unwilling to challenge the use of federal authority, something liberals generally favor, . . . as social progressives would be extremely reluctant to give the federal courts . . . the opportunity to place further limits on federal commerce power.” Id. at 97-98. These “political checks,” Ashdown argues, operate in addition to judicial dynamics “as a practical floor on potential judicial inroads on federal power.” Id. at 98-99.
In the end, Ashdown observes that “the Supreme Court’s own jurisprudence has established a floor on shifting power to state governments,” and “[f]ederalism tends to get ignored in favor of first-order issues like abortion, gun control, and civil rights.” Id. at 103. Ashdown aptly foreshadows the litigation surrounding the Affordable Health Care Act - - - and possible "floor and ceiling" issues on forthcoming constitutional law exams.
with J. Zak Ritchie
[image: Inside the US Supreme Court building via]
Sunday, April 3, 2011
The government on Friday filed its opening brief in Florida v. HHS, the appeal before the Eleventh Circuit of Judge Vinson's (N.D. Fla.) ruling that federal health reform is unconstitutional. (Thanks to the ACA Litigation Blog for the link to the brief. Recall that Judge Vinson ruled that the individual health insurance mandate was unconstitutional, that it was not severable from the rest of the Affordable Health Act, and that the entire Act was therefore unconstitutional. Our last post on the case is here.)
The government's core arguments are by now familiar; there are no major surprises. There's just one new piece to the appeal, based on Judge Vinson's sweeping ruling: The government argues that his ruling that the entire Act is unconstitutional (because the individual mandate is not severable) goes too far, and that he fails to address several plaintiffs' lack of standing. (These arguments begin on page 55 of the brief.)
Here are the point-headings from the Table of Contents:
I. The Minimum Coverage Provision Is a Valid Exercise of Congress's Commerce Power.
A. The minimum coverage provision regulates the way people pay for health care services, a class of economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce.
1. The minimum coverage provision regulates the practice of obtaining health care services without insurance, a practice that shifts substantial costs to other participants in the health care market.
2. The minimum coverage provision is essential to the Act's guaranteed-issue and community-rating insurance reforms.
B. The minimum coverage provision is a necessary and proper means of regulating interstate commerce.
1. The provision is plainly adapted to the unique conditions of the health care market.
2. Congress can regulate participants in the health care market even if they are not currently "active" in the insurance market.
II. The Minimum Coverage Provision Is Also Independently Authorized by Congress's Taxing Power.
III. The District Court Impermissibly Departed from Controlling Doctrine in Declaring the Affordable Care Act Invalid in Its Entirety and in Awarding Relief to Parties Without Standing.
Friday, April 1, 2011
April is "National Poetry Month," and here at Constitutional Law Professors Blog we are celebrating not with a poem a day, but with a footnote a day.
Although there certainly are some poems about and in constitutional law, arguably (or so I have long thought) footnotes are the next closest creature to "poetry" in Constitutional Law.
It seems fitting to start with what has been called the most famous footnote in law:
There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten Amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth.
It is unnecessary to consider now whether legislation which restricts those political processes which can ordinarily be expected to bring about repeal of undesirable legislation, is to be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment than are most other types of legislation.
Nor need we enquire whether similar considerations enter into the review of statutes directed at particular religious, or national, or racial minorities, whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry.
At issue in United States v. Carolene Products Company, 304 U.S. 144 (1938) was a federal statute regulating the shipment of "filled milk" (skimmed milk to which nonmilk fat is added so that it may seem to be like whole milk or even cream). The challenges to the law were based on a lack of commerce clause power and a due process violation. The case did not involve equal protection - - - which perhaps explains the relegation of the now-famous language to a footnote.
For purists, here's the famous footnote four, complete with citations, from Carolene Products.
There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth. See Stromberg v. California, 283 U. S. 359, 283 U. S. 369-370; Lovell v. Griffin, 303 U. S. 444, 303 U. S. 452.
It is unnecessary to consider now whether legislation which restricts those political processes which can ordinarily be expected to bring about repeal of undesirable legislation is to be subjected to more exacting judicial scrutiny under the general prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment than are most other types of legislation. On restrictions upon the right to vote, see Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U. S. 536; Nixon v. Condon, 286 U. S. 73; on restraints upon the dissemination of information, see Near v. Minnesota ex rel. Olson, 283 U. S. 697, 283 U. S. 713-714, 283 U. S. 718-720, 283 U. S. 722; Grosjean v. American Press Co., 297 U. S. 233; Lovell v. Griffin, supra; on interferences with political organizations, see Stromberg v. California, supra, 283 U. S. 369; Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U. S. 380; Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357, 274 U. S. 373-378; Herndon v. Lowry, 301 U. S. 242, and see Holmes, J., in Gitlow v. New York, 268 U. S. 652, 268 U. S. 673; as to prohibition of peaceable assembly, see De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U. S. 353, 299 U. S. 365.
Nor need we enquire whether similar considerations enter into the review of statutes directed at particular religious, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U. S. 510, or national, Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390; Bartels v. Iowa, 262 U. S. 404; Farrington v. Tokushige, 273 U. S. 284, or racial minorities, Nixon v. Herndon, supra; Nixon v. Condon, supra: whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry. Compare 17 U. S. 428; South Carolina v. Barnwell Bros., 303 U. S. 177, 303 U. S. 184, n 2, and cases cited.
United States v. Carolene Prod. Co., 304 U.S. 144, 152-53 n.4 (1938).
Sunday, March 20, 2011
The regulation of food and its consumption have always posed constitutional issues - - - recall the "wheat case" of Wickard v. Filburn (1942) - - - and for the last several years, public health advocates, now prominently joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, have highlighted the need for vigorous public policy solutions to the increasing costs of obesity in America. One of the most well-known policies aimed at adjusting Americans’ eating habits is the mandatory disclosure of nutritional information by restaurants. Leading the way on such mandates include several of America’s largest cities, including New York, where Mayor Bloomberg has successfully advocated for the posting of calorie information in many of the city’s eateries; this policy ultimately survived a constitutional challenge.
In West Virginia, the efforts to mandate caloric information have been less successful. During the 2009 Regular Session of the WV State Legislature, a bill was introduced and recommended for passage in the House of Delegates that would have required the posting of calorie counts of menu items in most restaurants throughout the state. The bill died before making it to the House floor, perhaps because of the efforts of former state senator and statewide restaurateur, Oshel Cragio. Craigo, who owns a popular fast-food chain of home-style breakfast restaurants named “Tudor’s Biscuit World,” buttered-up House committee members with free biscuit-style breakfast entrees on the morning in which the nutritional posting bill was being debated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, members chose the biscuits over the bill. However, a provision in the federal health care reform bill will likely require Cragio’s restaurants to post calorie counts.
Mandatory calorie disclosures typically provoke the anti-government sentiments often shared by members of the modern Tea Party, a movement we’ve covered here. The rhetoric often invokes an originalist imagining of Revolutionary-era politics as championing individual liberty against government policies.
Professor Alison Peck at the WVU College of Law challenges the symbolism used by modern day Tea Party by arguing that early-American political groups associated with the Founding Fathers actually had more in common with contemporary advocates of food-consumption regulation than with the small-government Tea Party activists of today.
Peck has posted an abstract of her article, Revisiting the Original “Tea Party”: The Historical Roots of Regulating Food Consumption in America, on ssrn here, but we've had a chance to read the entire draft manuscript. It's a stellar argument supporting her central assertion that “opponents of modern food-consumer regulation misapprehend Revolutionary history. . . .” Manuscript at 5.
Specifically, the "non-importation and non-consumption agreements suggest that the colonists considered private consumption decisions to be fair subjects of coordinated public action where those decisions had negative public consequences.” Id. at 7. Indeed, Peck argues that a close examination of those non-importation agreements and their context suggests that they arose, in principle, from many of the same forces driving food-consumer regulation today. These forces include shared public costs attributable to private consumption decisions; popular rhetoric linking private choices and public costs; sponsorship of restrictions by community leaders and elites; and collectively-enforced consequences for failure to conform. Id.
While the author admits the obvious difference between the modern regulations and the Revolution-era non-importation and non-consumption agreements—that the latter agreements had no force of law—Peck claims that the “disenfranchised colonists came as close as they could to replicating that effect: The increasingly coercive mechanisms of outing and ostracizing free riders, seizing and holding offending goods, and even using violence against offenders gradually served to raise the cost of non-compliance.” Id at 50. Indeed, Professor Peck believes that it was “likely that the colonists would have given their agreements the force of law if they had had the constitutional power to do so.” Id. Supporting this assertion, the author briefly discusses the imposition of the federal excise tax on whiskey in 1791—a tax that led to a brief but serious rebellion in the young nation.
Peck concludes by chiding the modern Tea Party for their claims that food-consumer regulation are “unprecedented or un-American,” as such regulatory forces are “far from novel.” Id. at 54. She writes:
The idea that a society may regulate individual consumption choices in the name of the collective good was expressed as early as the pre-Revolutionary non-consumption and non-importation agreements. Although those agreements were quasi-legal instruments organized and enforced by the colonists outside of formal legislative bodies, their purpose was equivalent: to force accountability for private consumption decisions that had shared social costs.
The powers of governments (federal, state, and local) and individual liberties has been an ongoing balancing act in US legal history. Peck's article will be an important contribution to our assessment of our understanding of that history.
with J. Zak Ritchie
[image: Mary Cassat, American artist, "Afternoon Tea Party," 1891, via]
March 20, 2011 in Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Current Affairs, Due Process (Substantive), Food and Drink, Fundamental Rights, History, Scholarship, State Constitutional Law, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Judge Vinson (N.D. Fla.) on Thursday stayed his ruling that the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act was unconstitutional. (Recall that Judge Vinson ruled in January that the individual health insurance mandate exceeded congressional authority and was unseverable from the rest of the Act; therefore, he ruled, the whole thing was unconstitutional. But he stopped short of issuing an injunction, instead assuming that the government would treat his declaratory ruling as an injunction.)
Yesterday's ruling in Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services was highly critical of the government for claiming it misunderstood the earlier "clear" ruling and for filing a "motion to clarify," not a motion to stay. Judge Vinson wrote:
So to "clarify" my order and judgment: The individual mandate was declared unconstitutional. Because that "essential" provision was unseverable from the rest of the Act, the entire legislation was void. This declaratory judgment was expected to be treated as the "practical" and "functional equivalent of an injunction" with respect to the parties to the litigation. This expectation was based on the "long-standing presumption" that the defendants themselves identified and agreed to be bound by, which provides that a declaratory judgment against federal officials is a de facto injunction. To the extent that the defendants were unable (or believed that they were unable) to comply, it was expected that they would immediately seek a stay of the ruling, which is the usual and standard procedure. It was not expected that they would effectively ignore the order and declaratory judgment for two and one-half weeks, continue to implement the Act, and only then file a belated motion to "clarify."
Op. at 14. Judge Vinson treated the government's motion as a motion to stay and granted it, on the condition that the government appeal within 7 calendar days and seeking an expedited appeal.
Judge Vinson recognized that his original position would have put some plaintiff-states in an unusual position. For example, the State of Michigan, as a plaintiff in the case, would have been subject to his original ruling, and the federal government would have been prevented from implementing the Act there. But another federal district court in Michigan ruled the Act constitutional. In other plaintiff-states, state attorneys general disagreed with state governors. Yet other plaintiff-states declined to stop implementation pending appeal.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Judge Gladys Kessler (D.D.C.) on Tuesday upheld the individual health insurance mandate in the federal health reform package, the Affordable Care Act. Judge Kessler granted the government's motion to dismiss the case, Mead v. Holder, handing the government its third district court victory. (We posted on the earlier two cases upholding the individual insurance mandate here and here. We posted on the two earlier cases ruling the mandate unconstitutional here and here. District court rulings are on appeal, but no federal appellate court has yet ruled on the constitutionality of the individual health insurance mandate.)
Plaintiffs in the case argued that they were outside the scope of congressional Commerce Clause authority, because they planned never to use the health care system. And if they did, they'd pay out of pocket. Moreover, they claimed, the individual mandate violates their religious freedom under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Judge Kessler surveyed the Commerce Clause landscape in some detail and synthesized this three-part rule from Wickard v. Filburn, United States v. Lopez, United States v. Morrison, and Gonzales v. Raich:
- First, the Court must consider whether the decision not to purchase health insurance is an economic one.
- Second, if the decision is economic, the Court must determine whether Congress had a rational basis for concluding that such decisions, when taken in the aggregate, substantially affect the national health care market.
- Third, the activity may be found to be within the reach of Congress's Commerce Clause power if it is an essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity, in which the regulatory scheme could be undercut unless the interstate activity were regulated.
Op. at 35-36. (Internal quotes and citations omitted.)
The first part--whether the (in)activity is economic--has perhaps received the most attention in the public debates and court cases. But Judge Kessler had little trouble concluding that the activity was economic, ruling simply that "[b]oth the decision to purchase health insurance and its flip side--the decision not to purchase health insurance--therefore relate to the consumption of a commodity: a health insurance policy." Op. at 38. She dismissed the plaintiffs' related argument that the non-purchase is non-activity, not subject to Commerce Clause regulation: "It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not "acting," especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not to do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality." Op. at 45.
Judge Kessler went on to rule that Congress rationally concluded that the decision not to purchase insurance substantially affected the health care market, and that the individual health insurance mandate was an essential part of the regulatory scheme--that it was a critical tool in preventing free-riding and cost-distribution by those who would opt out.
Judge Kessler ruled against the government on the General Welfare Clause: the penalty for not insuring was not a "tax," she ruled, because Congress never intended it to act as a tax.
She rejected the plaintiff's RFRA claim. She ruled that their argument that the mandate undermines their religion (because they believe that God will take care of their health, and the mandate forces them into a back-up plan) represented only a de minimis impact on their religious beliefs. And moreover, she ruled, the mandate is the least restrictive way for the government to achieve its compelling interest.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Virginia AG Kenneth Cuccinelli yesterday filed a Petition for a Writ of Certiorari Before Judgment in the Supreme Court, seeking review of Judge Hudon's (E.D. Va.) ruling in Virginia v. Sebelius in December, holding the individual health insurance mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
AG Cuccinelli filed pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 11, which allows a petition for writ of cert. in extraordinary cases:
A petition for a writ of certiorari to review a case pending in a United States court of appeals, before judgment is entered in that court, will be granted only upon a showing that the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice and to require immediate determination in this Court.
Here are AG Cuccinelli's questions presented:
1. Whether the district court erred in holding that the Commonwealth has standing to challenge the minimum coverage provision (as stated by the Secretary).
2. Whether the district court erred in holding that the minimum coverage provision is not a valid exercise of Congress's Article I powers (as stated by the Secretary).
3. Whether the district court erred when it held that the unconstitutional mandate and penalty of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 . . . is severable from all the remaining provisions of the law.
4. Whether the district court erred when it denied injunctive relief.
The Justice Department has indicated that it opposes bypassing the appeals courts. (Twenty-eight governors sent a letter to President Obama today asking him to support an expedited appeal to the Supreme Court.)
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act this morning, 10:00 a.m. (EST). Here's the witness list:
- Oregon AG John Kroger
- Randy Barnett
- Jones Day Partner Michael Carvin
- Walter Dellinger
- Charles Fried
The hearing comes on the heels of Judge Vinson's (N.D. Fla.) ruling on Monday that the individual mandate exceeds Congress's Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause authority, that the mandate is not severable from the rest of the Act, and that therefore the entire Act is unconstitutional.
Judge Vinson's ruling is the second federal district court ruling that the individual insurance mandate exceeds congressional authority. (We posted on the first one here.) There are also two federal district court rulings that the mandate falls within congressional authority; we posted here and here.
The hearing will have no legal or constitutional significance. Anything that can be said about the constitutionality of the Act has already been said (and argued in the courts), and the Senate already made its own judgment on the constitutionality of the Act when it passed it in the first place.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Judge Vinson (N.D. Fla.) ruled today in State of Florida v. U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services that the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act was unconstitutional--in its entirety. The ruling declared that the individual health insurance mandate exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause. Judge Vinson wrote that because the mandate cannot be severed from the rest of the Act, the whole thing was unconstitutional. We posted previously on the case--which was brought by governors or AGs in 26 states, two private citizens, and a business association--here and here.
In striking down the mandate, Judge Vinson ruled that the Commerce Clause only authorizes Congress to regulate activity, that failure to purchase health insurance is not an activity, and that there's nothing inherent or unique in the health care market or in the decision not to purchase health insurance that ties the failure to purchase health insurance to interstate commerce.
Judge Vinson emphasized throughout his analysis that the question--whether Congress can regulate a non-"activity"--was novel. This alone, he ruled, did not make it unconstitutional. But it seemed to put a heavy thumb on the scale in his analysis. (He didn't seem troubled that other congressional acts upheld under the Commerce Clause were also "novel" when they first came to the courts: wheat production for home use in Wickard v. Filburn and home production and use of marijuana in Gonzales v. Raich, just to name two. But he did write this about Wickard: "[B]efore Wickard was decided, it is likely that most people (including legal scholars and judges) would have thought it equally "ridiculous" to believe that Congress would one day seek (and be permitted) to regulate (as interstate commerce) the amount of wheat that a farmer grew on a small private farm for his personal consumption." Op. at 47, n. 20.)
He also emphasized the unbridled power that would result if Congress could require individuals to purchase health insurance: if Congress could do this, he wrote, Congress could do anything--require us to buy certain cars, to buy certain bread, and even to buy broccoli. These kinds of regulations exceed congressional authority, he wrote, because they run counter to the Framers' intent and to precedent and practice.
Judge Vinson was perhaps most emphatic in writing that the non-act of not purchasing health insurance had no effect on interstate commerce:
If impact on interstate commerce were to be expressed and calculated mathematically, the status of being uninsured would necessarily be represented by zero. Of course, any other figure multiplied by zero is also zero. Consequently, [even the aggregate] impact must be zero, and of no effect on interstate commerce.
Op. at 50. According to Judge Vinson, it would require "pil[ing] inference upon inference" to get from not insuring to the interstate economy, thus running afoul of the principle in U.S. v. Lopez.
Judge Vinson wrote separately about the Necessary and Proper Clause. He wrote that this Clause also failed to support the individual mandate, largely because the Commerce Clause didn't support the mandate:
The Necessary and Proper Clause cannot be utilized to "pass laws for the accomplishment of objects" that are not within Congress' enumerated powers. As the previous analysis of the defendants' Commerce Clause argument reveals, the individual mandate is neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution. To uphold that provision via application of the Necessary and Proper Clause would authorize Congress to reach and regulate far beyond the currently established "outer limits" of the Commerce Clause and effectively remove all limits on federal power.
Op. at 62.
Judge Vinson ruled that the Medicaid expansion portion of the Act did not violate the Spending Clause. He ruled that it clearly met the standards under South Dakota v. Dole and that it didn't unconstitutionally "coerce" the states. (The states argued that the expansion coerced them into continuing their participation in Medicaid, even as the cost of participating became unsustainable.)
But he nevertheless ruled the entire Act unconstitutional, because, he wrote, the individual mandate wasn't severable from the rest of the Act.
Judge Vinson's ruling is now the second federal district court ruling that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. (Judge Henry Hudson (E.D. Va.) issued the first ruling last month.) There are also two federal court rulings upholding the constitutionality of the mandate.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Recall: Judge Hudson ruled last month that the individual health insurance mandate in the federal health care reform legislation exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause authority because it required a positive act (and didn't merely prohibit action)--a popular position among those who argue against the mandate's constitutionality.
But Yung points out that Judge Hudson ruled just over a year earlier that a different federal requirement to act was well within Commerce Clause authority. That case, U.S. v. Dean, involved the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) and its requirement that sex offenders registered with the comprehensive national registration system that SORNA created--whether or not they cross state lines. Yung:
In the case of health care reform, opponents have argued that Congress' power extends only to "activities" and that the so-called "mandate" actually punishes people for "inactivity"--failing to purchase health insurance. In the case of sex-offender registration, a similar "inactivity" is being regulated: failing to register with the government. Like Hudson, every federal appellate court that has reviewed the federal sex-offender-registration law has found it to be within Congress' powers.
Despite the similarities between the statutes, the more recent opinion by Hudson is radically different from when he reviewed the federal sex-offender-registration statute. In his opinion regarding the health care law, Judge Hudson wrote that in order to "survive a constitutional challenge, the subject matter must be economic in nature . . . and it must involve activity."
That clear statement of law simply cannot be reconciled with his prior opinion because a failure to register as a sex offender is neither economic nor activity.
Judge Hudson wrote this in Dean:
When evaluating the impact of an activity on interstate commerce, the [Fourth Circuit] commented that "the question is not simply whether one particular offense has a measurable impact upon interstate commerce, but whether the relevant class of acts has such an impact." With this principle in mind, the Fourth Circuit concluded that "even though the comprehensive federal registration system created by SORNA may implicate a sex offender who does not cross state lines, the potential for recidivism and flight across state lines of all sex offenders is sufficiently real and substantial to be taken as a serious and extensive part of the larger interstate problem, justifying the comprehensive regulation. The court found further support for its conclusion in the fact that Congress's regulatory scheme would be severely hampered unless all sex offenders were required to register.
As a result of the Fourth Circuit's analysis . . . this Court finds that the registration requirements detailed in [SORNA] are valid under the Commerce Clause. . . .
Dean, 670 F. Supp. 457, 460 (citations omitted, emphasis in original). (Judge Hudson's refers to the Fourth Circuit case of U.S. v. Gould, which upheld the federal criminal penalty for sex offenders who travel across state lines and fail to register, but which did not directly opine on the federal regulation to register in the first place. Again: this regulation applies whether or not a sex offender crosses state lines.)
Judge Hudson's analysis above seems to apply with even greater force to the individual mandate.
But more: Judge Hudson went on to write that the Necessary and Proper Clause provided additional support for this conclusion. And notably he cited no Fourth Circuit case for this part of his opinion, suggesting that he wasn't merely and begrudgingly following the Fourth Circuit's reasoning in Gould but (if there were any doubt) also using his own judgment, thus underscoring the inconsistency with his more recent health reform ruling.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Justice Thomas dissented yesterday (joined by Justice Scalia) in a denial of review of a case that the Court might have used to clarify the scope of the Commerce Clause. Instead, Justice Thomas argued, the Court in denying review "tacitly accepts the nullification of our recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence." Op. at 1.
While Justice Thomas overstates the significance of the denial of review, his dissent may give us some clues about the Court's most recent thinking on the Commerce Clause.
The case, Alderman v. U.S., involves 18 U.S.C. Sec. 931(a), the federal statute that outlaws body armor for anyone who has been convicted of a felony crime of violence and where the body armor was sold or offered for sale in interstate commerce. Alderman was charged with violating the statute and entered a conditional plea. He then appealed, arguing that the statute exceeded Congress's Commerce Clause authority.
A divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument and upheld the statute. The panel looked to the Court's 1977 ruling in Scarborough v. United States, a case involving a federal prohibition on possession of firearms by felons. While Scarborough involved a different federal statute, it contained a similar "jurisdictional element"--a requirement that the regulated thing (there a firearm, here body armor) traveled in interstate commerce. Thus Scarborough "considered whether proof that an illegally possessed firearm previously traveled in interstate commerce was sufficient to satisfy the nexus between possession of the firearm and commerce." Op. at 7 (quoting United States v. Cortes (9th Cir. 2002)). Scarborough did not directly address the constitutional question, but the Ninth Circuit ruled that it "implicitly assumed the constitutionality of the 'in commerce' requirement." Op. at 7. Thus, the Ninth Circuit ruled, Scarborough holds that a statute's jurisdictional element alone can put a statute within congressional power "[t]o regulate Commerce . . . among the several states . . . ." Art. I, Sec. 8, the Commerce Clause. Just as the jurisdictional element in Scarborough kept the federal firearm restriction within Congress's Commerce Clause authority, so too here the jurisdictional element keeps the federal body armor restriction within Congress's Commerce Clause authority.
The Ninth Circuit denied en banc review, and yesterday the Supreme Court denied review.
Justice Thomas (joined by Justice Scalia in all but a footnote referring to some of Justice Thomas's other writings on the scope of the Commerce Clause) wrote that the denial "nullified" more recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence, United States v. Lopez and United States v. Morrison. Those cases held that Congress can regulate activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, as measured by four considerations: whether the activity is commercial, or has anything to do with commerce; whether the statute contains a jurisdictional element; whether the legislative history contains any findings as to the effect on interstate commerce; and whether the link between the activity and a substantial effect on interstate commerce is too attenuated.
Justice Thomas argues that the denial amounts to privileging the jurisdictional element above all else and ignoring the statute's encroachment on traditional state police powers. According to Justice Thomas, this approach knows no bounds and would allow Congress to regulate everything from stolen candy transported across state lines to french fries purchased in another state.
Justice Thomas overstates the denial's impact on Lopez and Morrison. A denial of review does not change the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, even implicitly. And there may be any number of non-merits reasons why the Court denied review.
On the other hand, the Court's denial and Justice Thomas's dissent may tell us something about the Court's thinking on the Commerce Clause. For one, the denial leaves the Ninth Circuit ruling in place, along with similar rulings in other circuits. With no circuit going the the other way (rejecting congressional authority), the Ninth Circuit is now just the latest in a growing line of rulings that a jurisdictional element alone can authorize congressional regulation under the Commerce Clause. This is significant: If the Court wanted to reverse this line and rein in the lower courts, as Justice Thomas argued, this seemed like the perfect case.
Thus the Court's denial could mean that it doesn't want to reverse this line. And that's plausible: The Ninth Circuit's approach isn't necessarily inconsistent with Lopez or Morrison; it's really a special case. Neither Lopez nor Morrison gave any indication how the Court would weigh the four considerations if there were a clear and well defined jurisdictional element limiting the statute to activities sufficiently linked to interstate commerce. Such an element--as here, as in Scarborough--may just be enough for the Court.
For another, Justice Thomas was joined only by Justice Scalia. That's not to say that others don't agree with the analysis--perhaps they do. But none felt strongly enough about it to sign on.
Still, we can't read too much, if anything, from a dissent to the Court's denial of review. Maybe the Court is inclined to take a look at this question, but this was just the wrong case at the wrong time. In any event, the denial and Justice Thomas's dissent give us no clues as to how the Court might rule on the Commerce Clause issue of the day--the individual health insurance mandate. The question there--whether the Commerce Clause authorizes Congress to require individuals to purchase insurance--is just too different from the question in Alderman.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Judge Henry Hudson (E.D. Va.) today in Virginia v. Sebelius ruled the individual health-insurance mandate in the federal health care reform package unconstitutional. Judge Hudson ruled that the individual mandate exceeded Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the General Welfare (Tax) Clause. The decision was unsurprising. (Judge Hudson previously denied the government's motion to dismiss, anticipating his ruling on the merits here.) Here are some highlights:
- The Commerce Clause. Judge Hudson ruled that the individual mandate exceeded congressional authority under the Commerce Clause, because it regulates "inactivity," not economic activity. Judge Hudson described this as unprecedented--leading to unfettered congressional authority. The mandate wasn't saved by an aggregation theory, taking the aggregate economic effect of decisions not to purchase health insurance.
- The Necessary and Proper Clause. Judge Hudson ruled that the Necessary and Proper Clause added nothing to the Commerce Clause: If the power's not in the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause doesn't give Congress the power to do it. This is rather breathtaking, given the Supreme Court's ruling last term in U.S. v. Comstock, upholding the federal civil commitment statute under the Necessary and Proper Clause, and, in the course, reinforcing a broad reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause.
- The General Welfare Clause. Judge Hudson ruled that the mandate operated as a penalty masquerading as a tax. Interestingly, he pointed to congressional intent here, suggesting that the tax for failing to purchase health insurance is, in fact, a penalty. (He didn't similarly defer to Congress on the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause.)
- The Tenth Amendment. The Tenth Amendment played a very minor role in the decision. Judge Hudson quoted it at the end of his tax analysis, writing first that Congress has defined authority under the Constitution under Article I, Section 8, and next merely quoting and citing the Tenth Amendment.
- Relief. Judge Hudson severed the individual mandate and directly dependent provisions from the rest of the legislation, ruling that only those sections are unconstitutional (and preserving the rest of the legislation). He also only issued a declaratory judgment, not injunctive relief. The ruling is thus quite narrow and recognizes that the issue will be resolved finally in the higher courts.
We most recently posted on health reform lawsuits here, in Liberty University v. Geithner. In that case, the federal district judge dismissed a similar constitutional challenge to reform. Check out the ACA Litigation Blog for litigation documents in all these cases.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Judge Norman Moon (W.D. Va.) today dismissed Liberty University v. Geithner, a case filed by state lawmakers, a doctor, Liberty University, and individuals challenging the federal healthcare reform legislation. The plaintiffs argued that the legislation exceeds Congress's Article I authority, and that it violates the Tenth Amendment, the religion clauses, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, equal protection, free speech and free association, Article I, Section 9's prohibition against unapportioned capitation or direct taxes, and the Guarantee Clause.
Judge Moon ruled that the state lawmakers lacked standing by virtue of their opposition to federal reform. The doctor lacked standing, because his claims that reform may interfere with his ability to provide quality care for his patients were too vague. Judge Moon ruled that other plaintiffs have standing; the case is ripe; and it's not barred by the Anti-Injunction Act.
On the merits, Judge Moon ruled that Congress acted within its authority under the Commerce Clause in enacting the individual health insurance mandate. Judge Moon wrote that
The conduct regulated by the individual coverage provision--individuals' decisions to forego purchasing health insurance coverage--is economic in nature, and so the provision is not susceptible to the shortcomings of the statutes struck down by the Court in Lopez and Morrison. Nearly everyone will require health care services at some point in their lifetimes, and it is not always possible to predict when one will be afflicted by illness or injury and require care. The "fundamental need for health care and the necessity of paying for such services received" creates the market in health care services, of which nearly everyone is a participant." . . . Far from "inactivity," by choosing to forgo insurance, Plaintiffs are making an economic decision to try to pay for health care services later, out of pocket, rather than now, through the purchase of insurance.
Op. at 27 (quoting Thomas More Law Ctr., another challenge to federal health care reform). Judge Moon had less trouble concluding that the employer mandate fell within Congress's Commerce Clause authority:
As defendants correctly point out, it is well-established in Supreme Court precedent that Congress has the power to regulate the terms and conditions of employment. . . .
The requirement imposed by the Act on employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance resembles the requirement imposed by the [Fair Labor Standards Act] on employers to offer a minimum wage upheld in Darby, and Plaintiffs fail to distinguish the two.
Op. at 31.
As to the Tenth Amendment, Judge Moon ruled that Congress had authority (and therefore the Tenth Amendment is no bar), Congress can regulate in the area of insurance (and therefore federal reform doesn't infringe upon an area reserved to the states, or upon state sovereignty), and state participation is voluntary (and therefore there's no commandeering of states or state officials).
As to the Establishment Clause, Judge Moon ruled that the religious exemptions to the individual mandate were permissible accommodations under Cutter v. Wilkinson. The exemptions do not differentiate based on faiths, they are based upon a secular government purpose, and they do not lead to excessive government entanglement with religion.
As to Free Exercise and the Regligious Freedom Restoration Act, Judge Moon ruled that the federal law does not require the plaintiffs to pay for abortion, in violation of their religious practices. "Indeed, the Act contains strict safeguards at multiple levels to prevent federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services beyond those in cases of rape or incest, or where the life of the woman would be endangered." Op. at 43.
Judge Moon ruled that the religious exemptions also did not violate equal protection. "Accordingly, with no reason to believe the exemptions were designed to favor or penalize a particular religious group, I proceed to analyze the exemptions under rational basis review." Op. at 46. The exemptions, toward the end of accommodating religion, clearly satisfied rational basis review.
As to speech and association, Judge Moon ruled that federal reform does not require the plaintiffs to support or associate with individuals who obtain an abortion in violation of free speech and association. "The Act does not require health plans to cover abortion, and it ensures that at least one policy offered through each health benefit exchange will not cover non-excepted abortion services." Op. at 49. Any required association is minimal. And the federal act does not require the plaintiffs to speak on, or to support, abortion.
As to taxes, Judge Moon ruled that the penalties for noncompliance are not taxes; instead they are "mere incident[s] of the regulation of commerce." Op. at 52 (quoting Head Money Cases.)
Finally, as to the Guarantee Clause, Judge Moon rejected the plaintiffs' claim that the federal act gives Congress the ability to veto private choices about health care and thus gives the federal government absolute sovereignty over the people. "The Act does no such thing; nothing prevents the people and their representatives from amending or repealing the Act through the democratic process." Op. at 53.
November 30, 2010 in Association, Commerce Clause, Congressional Authority, Equal Protection, Establishment Clause, Federalism, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Free Exercise Clause, Fundamental Rights, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Religion, Ripeness, Speech, Standing, Taxing Clause, Tenth Amendment | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Thirty-three Republican Senators filed an amicus brief in the Northern District of Florida case challenging federal health care reform. (We posted yesterday that state lawmakers filed their own amicus supporting reform.)
The Republicans' brief collects and restates the several well known arguments that Congress lacked authority to enact the individual health insurance mandate under the Commerce Clause. Thus the brief argues that (1) not getting health insurance isn't commerce and therefore isn't subject to Commerce Clause regulation, (2) at no time in our history has Congress required a "passive" person to purchase something under its Commerce Clause authority (and courts have never upheld this kind of exercise), (3) the government's theory would result in an unbridled Commerce Clause that would intrude into areas reserved for the states, vastly expand Congress's authority, and upset the delicate balance between federal enumerated powers and state police powers.
These are familiar arguments. But two points in the brief caught my attention. First, the Republicans argue that Congress didn't even find that not buying insurance substantially affects interstate commerce. Instead, they argue, Congress found only that requiring the purchase of health insurance would substantially affect interstate commerce. They argue that the Court requires Congress to find that the action regulated--and not the regulation itself--substantially affects interstate commerce, and therefore even Congress didn't find facts sufficient to support the exercise of its Commerce Clause authority in this way.
They also argue that while Congress has required "passive" individuals to do something under other Article I authorities (e.g., the authority to raise and support armies), it has never done so under the Commerce Clause. They don't explain why this matters--why the principle that Congress can require action under one Article I authority doesn't transfer to other Article I authorities--except to say that authority here would lead to a limitless Commerce Clause.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
In a 65 page opinion issued today, Senior United States District Judge Roger Vinson of the Northern District of Florida has granted in part and denied in part the morion to dismiss the complaint.
The Complaint alleges that the Health Care Reform Act is unconstitutional on various grounds in six counts and the Motion to Dismiss was directed at all the counts.
Here is the bottom line:
(1) the individual mandate and concomitant penalty exceed Congressional authority under the Commerce Clause and violate the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; NOT DISMISSED
(2) the individual mandate and penalty violate substantive due process under the Fifth Amendment; DISMISSED
(3) if the penalty imposed for failing to comply with the individual mandate is found to be a tax, it is an unconstitutional unapportioned capitation or direct tax in violation of U.S. Const. art. I, § 9, cl. 4, and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED AS MOOT
(4) the Act coerces and commandeers the states with respect to Medicaid by altering and expanding the program in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; NOT DISMISSED
(5) it coerces and commandeers with respect to the health benefit exchanges in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED
(6) the employer mandate interferes with the states' sovereignty as large employers and in the performance of government functions in violation of Article I and the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; DISMISSED
Thus, the case will proceed on the issue of whether the individual mandate is in excess of Congress' commerce power in contravention of the Tenth Amendment and on the issue of whether the Medicaid changes are in excess of Congress' Article I power and in contravention of the Tenth Amendment.
Monday, September 27, 2010
The Washington Supreme Court last week unanimously upheld the state's ban on internet gambling against a Dormant Commerce Clause challenging, ruling that the ban was not "clearly excessive" in relation to legitimate state interests.
The case, Rousso v. State of Washington, involved a Washington statute that criminalizes "the knowing transmission and reception of gambling information by various means, including use of the Internet." The plaintiff, a Washington would-be gambler, claimed that the statute discriminated against out-of-staters in its effects and that Washington could have achieved its objectives by merely regulating, not completely banning, internet gambling.
The high court disagreed. In an opinion chock full of deference to the legislature and liberally laced with separation-of-powers and institutional competence concerns, the court ruled that the ban did not discriminate against out-of-staters, either on its face or in effect. It thus applied the familiar test that an evenhanded law does not violate the Commerce Clause if (1) there is a legitimate state purpose and (2) the burden imposed on interstate commerce is not "clearly excessive" in relation to the law's benefit.
Here, the state was concerned about gambling addiction, underage gambling, money laundering, and organized crime--clearly legitimate state purposes. The court ruled that the ban was not "clearly excessive" because any lesser action--regulation of internet gambling, e.g.--would be unduly burdensome and would not similarly achieve the benefits of the ban. Even though the state regulates, not bans, "brick and mortar gambling operations," similar state regulation of internet gambling "would be an interstate-commerce burdening nightmare."
The court found Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co. instructive:
There the Minnesota legislature banned the retail sale of milk in plastic nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers because they presented a solid waste management problem, caused energy waste, and depleted natural resources. Other nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers, such as ones made from paperboard, raised similar concerns but were not banned. . . .
Even though plastic and paperboard nonreturnable, nonrefillable containers caused the same ultimate ills, the Supreme Court . . . held the ban on plastic containers, which still permitted paperboard containers, was consistent with the dormant commerce clause.
Similarly, here "both brick and mortar gambling and Internet gambling pose many of the same threats to citizens' health, welfare, safety, and morals, yet only the latter is banned."
Sunday, July 18, 2010
The Obama administration switched its position on the individual health insurance mandate and now claims that it is a "tax," according to the New York Times in a provocatively titled article Changing Stance, Administration Now Defends Insurance Mandate as a Tax.
The Times reports that the administration is now defending the mandate--perhaps the most controversial piece of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act--primarily as a tax, and not primarily as a regulation of commerce, in federal court cases seeking to overturn the Act as unconstitutional. According to the story, administration officials describe the tax argument as the "linchpin" of their case. The story suggests that the switch came in response to increasing criticism of the mandate as exceeding Congress's authority under the Commerce Clause--authority that allows Congress to regulate anything that has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. The article suggests that this "switch," then, is a new (and disingenuous) argument. (We've covered the Commerce Clause and taxation arguments here, here, here, and here. We've covered other aspects of the bill here and here.)
Just one problem: The article is wrong.
The administration has consistently defended the mandate in court first as an exercise of Congress's Commerce Clause power and only (far) second as an exercise of its taxing power under the General Welfare Clause. Take, for example, the Justice Department's brief in Virginia v. Sebelius, the case in the Eastern District of Virginia. In that brief, the government devotes 15 pages to its thorough and aggressive argument under the Commerce Clause--its primary substantive argument--and a mere 4 pages for its near-after-thought argument on taxation. Yet the Times article quotes a portion from the tax argument in that very brief as evidence that the administration has changed its stance.
Take, for another example, the Justice Department's brief in Florida v. HHS, the Northern District of Florida case. In that brief, the government devoted a similar 16 pages to the Commerce Clause--again its primary substantive argument on the mandate--and a mere 3 to its secondary taxation argument.
(Thanks to the ACA Litigation Blog for the briefs. The ACA Litigation Blog is a new blog dedicated to following the litigation around health care reform.)
In its first brief in these cases, Thomas More Law Center, et al. v. Obama, in the Eastern District of Michigan, the government similarly privileged its Commerce Clause argument over its taxation argument.
The taxation argument was actively in play as early as last fall, even if the government has never (even now) used it as its primary authority in litigation for the mandate.
In short, the government's litigation position seems to have been consistent: The mandate is supported primarily by the Commerce Clause and only secondarily and alternatively by the taxation authority under the General Welfare Clause.
But in the end, does it matter? As the Times story indicates, Congress went to great lengths in the Act to justify the mandate as an exercise of its Commerce Clause authority, and virtually ignored its taxation authority. And administration officials have repeatedly claimed that the mandate is not a tax.
But there's no requirement that Congress name the particular authority it uses in its legislation (although that might help the courts uphold it), and there's certainly no requirement that the government's (or any litigant's) public pronouncements about their positions line up with their litigation positions. And in the end, whether the mandate is "commerce" or a "tax" doesn't really matter to those affected--they still have to comply, or face the penalty.
The only way the administration's public "switch" (if such a switch really exists) might matter is in a government's normative obligation to state publicly what it also states in litigation. This may be an attractive standard to promote government transparency, publicity, and educated public discourse, but we have never held the government to it.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Among Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan's written responses to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Friday was this exchange with Senator Cornyn on congressional power to enact legislation implementing a treaty:
[Question 4] Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416, 432 (1920), held that "[i]f a treaty is valid there can be no dispute about the validity of a statute under Article I, Section 8, as a necessary and proper means to execute the powers of the Government."
[Question 4a.] In your view, can Congress and the President expand or evade the scope of Congress's Article I powers by entering into a treaty requiring an enforcing law that would otherwise be unconstitutional [as exceeding congressional authority under Article I]?
Response: Missouri v. Holland held that Congress may enact a statute implementing a treaty pursuant to its authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause, even if Congress does not otherwise have Article I authority to do so, provided the statute does not violate a constitutional prohibition.
The exchange brings to mind debates even today about whether Congress can "exceed its authority" by enacting legislation under the General Welfare Clause--that is, whether Congress can do under the General Welfare Clause what it can't do under, say, the Commerce Clause.
Of course it can. Madison and Hamilton waged this debate many years ago--Madison for the limited view, Hamilton for the expansive view--and the Court settled it in favor of Hamilton in 1936 in United States v. Butler.
The issue for the General Welfare Clause (and also for congressional authority to implement a treaty) is not whether the political branches can "expand or evade the scope of Congress's Article I powers," as Senator Cornyn suggests. Instead, the General Welfare Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause (to implement a treaty) are themselves independent congressional powers. That Congress could not achieve its goals under, say, the Commerce Clause just doesn't matter, because it can achieve them by other valid means.
It's a separate question, of course, whether Congress should achieve the goals at all. Senator Cornyn went on to ask about this--with respect to the Gun Free School Zones Act (overturned as exceeding the Commerce Clause in United States v. Lopez), the civil damages provision in the Violence Against Women Act (overturned as exceeding the Commerce Clause and Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment in United States v. Morrison), and the individual health insurance mandate in the recent health care reform legislation (yet to reach the Supreme Court).
Could Congress achieve its policy goals in these areas by enacting a treaty and implementing it through legislation? Surely, every bit as much as it could under its spending power.
Whether it should is a question for Senator Cornyn, not Nominee Kagan.