Last week saw a splash of publicity for defenders of Obamacare’s constitutionality. First, Yale law prof Akhil Amar had a hyperbolic op-ed in the L.A. Times, prompting a thorough fisking by Tim Sandefur, Ilya Somin, and me (among others). Then Harvard law prof Larry Tribe (who has written for the Cato Supreme Court Review) had one in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:
Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. This includes authority over not just goods moving across state lines, but also the economic choices of individuals within states that have significant effects on interstate markets. By that standard, this law’s constitutionality is open and shut. Does anyone doubt that the multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry is an interstate market that Congress has the power to regulate?
Well, actually, Prof. Tribe, you’re asking and answering the wrong questions, as I say in my letter to the editor that appeared in the Sunday Times:
First, this is indeed a “novel” issue for the Supreme Court: Never before has the federal government asserted the power to require people to engage in economic activity under the guise of regulating commerce.
Second, those challenging the law do not question Congress’s power to regulate the “multitrillion-dollar health insurance industry,” but rather distinguish such regulation from a command for individuals to purchase that industry’s products.
Third, the difference between activity and inactivity is anything but “illusory”; if Congress can regulate mere decisions, then it can tell me, for example, that I shouldn’t spend time writing letters to the editor.
And finally, imagining that Justice Antonin Scalia would support the government here because he previously ratified prohibitions on the production and consumption of marijuana is to remove the very activity-inactivity distinction that he recognized in that earlier opinion.
Setting aside the issue of why Congress is only now getting around to holding hearings on the constitutionality of a fundamental piece of legislation it passed nearly a year ago, it’s clear now at least that the proponents of limitless, extra-constitutional government are running scared. Obamacare delenda est.