Tag: individual mandate

Yes, Says Virginia, There Are Limits on Federal Power

Today, the Fourth Circuit became the first appellate court in the nation to enter the Obamacare fray.  It heard two very similar cases back-to-back, Liberty University’s, in which the government won in the district court, and the Commonwealth of Virginia’s, in which Judge Henry Hudson struck down the individual mandate back in December.  Going into the hearing, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s legal team had done a wonderful job setting out the reasons why Hudson was correct and why Congress went too far in asserting the unprecedented power to compel people to enter into contracts with private insurance companies.  I was proud to sign Cato’s brief supporting that position and continue to maintain that the federal government cannot require people to buy goods or services under the guise of regulating interstate commerce.  Moreover, the individual mandate is the linchpin of the overall legislative scheme (as everyone concedes), so if it falls, the rest of the law—at least its central provisions—must fall with it.

Indeed, the Fourth Circuit judges—a Clinton appointee and two Obama appointees, in a random selection unfortunate to the challengers—struggled with the idea that Congress could regulate “inactivity.”  The government—which has now determined that the challenges are so serious as to send the solicitor general to argue in lower courts—claimed that Congress can do anything it wants relating to anything that in any way affects a national market such as that for health care.  Given that decisions not to buy insurance, or to self-insure, or not to pay for health care until presented with a bill, clearly have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, the argument went, Congress can require people to buy health insurance.  The judges seemed to agree to a certain extent but were still troubled by the textual truism that a power to “regulate” implies an active object or activity that is being regulated.  And indeed, if a “decision” not to buy something or the state of not having acquired something is all that is required to invoke congressional jurisdiction, then the Constitution’s enumerations of federal power mean absolutely nothing.

The government is understandably unconcerned with articulating a principled limit on its own power, and this particular panel of judges may find some way to avoid dealing with the activity/inactivity conundrum, but one can only hope that the Supreme Court ultimately rejects the claim that Congress can grant itself unlimited power simply by legislating in an area of great national concern.

Starting at 2pm Eastern, you can stream the oral arguments from the Court’s website here.

Cato’s Latest Obamacare Brief: Congress Cannot ‘Commandeer the People’

A recent poll showed that 22% of Americans believe Obamacare has been repealed and 26% aren’t sure.  Yet here at Cato, we’re all too aware that the massive, unconstitutional, and fundamentally unworkable overhaul of our health care system still looms on the horizon.

While two lower courts have struck down Obamacare in whole or in part, three others have ruled it constitutional, including a D.C. District Court opinion that claimed for the federal government the right to regulate the “mental activity” of decision-making.  As litigation progresses to the appellate level, this latter decision has proven to be more a hindrance to Obamacare’s supporters than a help, its Orwellian pronouncement being hard to ignore while the government downplays the significance of the power Congress is asserting.  Nevertheless, Obamacare’s constitutionality—with a focus on the individual health insurance mandate—remains an open question until ruled upon by the Supreme Court. 

Cato’s latest amicus brief is in the Fourth Circuit, in the case brought by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.  In this case, unlike in the Sixth Circuit (in which we also filed a brief), it is the federal government that appealed an adverse district court decision that struck down the individual mandate.  In our brief, joined by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Prof. Randy Barnett (the intellectual godfather of the Obamacare legal challenges, and also a Cato senior fellow), we argue that the outermost bounds of existing Commerce Clause jurisprudence prevent Congress from reaching intrastate non-economic activity regardless of whether it substantially affects interstate commerce.  Nor under existing law can Congress reach inactivity even if it purports to act pursuant to a broader regulatory scheme.  

Allowing Congress to conscript citizens into economic transactions is not only contrary to existing Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clause doctrine—as broad as that doctrine is—but it would fundamentally alter the relationship between the sovereign people and their supposed “public servants.”  The individual mandate “commandeers the people” into Congress’s brave new health care world.  If Obamacare is allowed to stand, the only limit on federal power will be Congress’s own discretion.

The case will be argued before the Fourth Circuit in Richmond on May 10.  Read more from Prof. Barnett on Obamacare here and check out the half-day event we recently held on the legal and economic problems with the law.  Finally, though his name isn’t on our brief because he hasn’t yet become a member of the bar, many thanks to legal associate Trevor Burrus for his work on it.

Thursday Links

  • There is a growing gap between Washington policymakers, and the taxpayers and troops who fund and carry out those policies.
  • Why do budget and deficit hawks keep sidestepping growing entitlements?
  • Don’t forget to join us on Monday, March 28 at 1pm ET for a live video chat with Julian Sanchez on the growing surveillance state.
  • The individual mandate in Obamacare is another example of the growing congressional power under the Commerce Clause:

What on Earth Is Ezra Klein Talking about?

The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes:

It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for Republicans. They managed to make it through the health-care debate without offering serious solutions of their own, and - perhaps more impressive - through the election by promising to tell us their solutions after they’d won. But the jig is up. They need a health-care plan - and quickly.

The GOP knew this day would come.

Say what?  Exactly what political factors are forcing the GOP to put up or shut up?  Their base is happy; it wants an all-out assault on ObamaCare, and congressional Republicans are giving it to them.  Republicans are even winning the ObamaCare debate among the broader public:

So why should Republicans all of a sudden stop attacking ObamaCare and start talking about their own refor–ohhhh…I see.  Klein is trying to talk the dog off the meat wagon.  Good luck with that.

So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking.

That’s the title of my latest Kaiser Health News column, which addresses President Obama’s offer to accelerate the waiver process that would allow states to replace many of ObamaCare’s most offensive provisions:

If you think that means the president was himself exhibiting flexibility, you would be wrong. Despite the rhetoric about compromise, what the president actually did was offer states the option of replacing his law with a single-payer health care system three years earlier than his law allows…

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has written that ObamaCare gives states “incredible freedom” to implement the law. We now know what she meant: states are free to coerce their residents even more than ObamaCare requires. What’s incredible is that she calls that freedom.

Apologies to to the Housemartins.

I’m Not So Sure I Like Your Mental Activity

The latest federal judge to declare ObamaCare constitutional claimed that Congress can regulate “mental activity,” like the mental activity of choosing not to purchase health insurance.  Or shoes and ships and sealing wax.  Or my book.

National Review editor Rich Lowry has an excellent column explaining why this latest, ahem, legal victory for ObamaCare “delivered a more telling blow against the law in the course of ruling it constitutional than critics have in assailing it as a travesty…It’s the most self-undermining defense of the constitutionality of a dubious statute since then–solicitor general Elena Kagan told the Supreme Court that under campaign-finance reform, the government could ban certain pamphlets.”

It’s Official: Governors Implementing ObamaCare Are Undermining the Lawsuits

Judge Roger Vinson of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida has just responded to the Obama administration’s “motion to clarify” his prior ruling, which declared ObamaCare unconstitutional and void.  That “motion to clarify” essentially asked Vinson, “Didn’t you really mean that we can keep implementing ObamaCare while we appeal your ruling?”  Today, Vinson answered, “No.”

The attorneys representing the plaintiffs, who include Florida and 25 other states, argued that the administration’s “motion to clarify” was actually a veiled request to have Vinson stay (i.e., set aside) his original order blocking implementation.  Vinson agreed, and therefore treated the Obama administration’s “motion to clarify” as a motion to stay, which he granted.  Vinson made clear, however, that if the administration fails to file a notice of appeal by March 10 or fails to seek an expedited appeal either with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, then his stay will lift and the administration will (once again) be barred from implementing or enforcing ObamaCare.  In other words, Vinson prevented the Obama administration from treating his stay as an excuse to ignore his ruling while the further entrenching the law.

It would have been better if Vinson had stuck to his original order blocking implementation.  Yet he made clear that one of the reasons he did not is that many of the states asking him to strike down the law are implementing it anyway.  Vinson wrote that the case for blocking implementation:

is undercut by the fact that at least eight of the plaintiff states…have represented that they will continue to implement and fully comply with the Act’s requirements — in an abundance of caution while this case is on appeal — irrespective of my ruling.

As the Obama administration explained to the court:

[S]ince the Court entered its judgment on January 31, at least 24 of the 26 plaintiff states have applied for additional grants authorized or appropriated by the ACA, continued to draw down grant funds previously awarded under the ACA, or otherwise availed themselves of resources made available by the ACA. Indeed, South Carolina has continued to drawn down exchange planning grant funds, even though it has declared the Act “void and unenforceable.” Similarly, Utah has described the declaratory judgment as an “injunction against further implementation” of the Act, but has continued to draw down Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (“PCIP”) funds and to request Early Retiree Reinsurance Program (“ERRP”) reimbursements.

Now would be a good time for the South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), and the governors of the other 22 plaintiff states to join Alaska and Florida in refusing to accept any further ObamaCare funds, returning the ObamaCare funds they have already received, and ceasing all implementation activities, including “planning” efforts.

Tea partiers and other conservative groups turned on House Republicans in a dispute over when the House would vote to cut off all ObamaCare spending.  Where’s the outrage over the governors and state legislators that are eagerly pursuing that funding, actively implementing the law, and preventing judges from stopping implementation?