Tag: necessary and proper clause

Cato Challenges the Supreme Court to Decide that Congress Doesn’t Have Unlimited Jurisdiction Over Everyone

Last year’s partial victory in the Obamacare case is already being applied to new cases reaching the Supreme Court. Recall that, in that case, the Court accepted our argument that the government cannot use the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses to compel someone to purchase health insurance. The Court held that allowing Congress to compel commerce into existence would be an improper use of a great and limitless power. In United States v. Kebodeaux, the Supreme Court will once again address an assertion of power that, if upheld, could give Congress nearly limitless power.

In 1999, Anthony Kebodeaux was sentenced to three years in prison for statutory rape. He served his time, was freed from any post-release parole or probation requirements, and ended his relationship with the federal government in the matter of criminal law. Years later, when Kebodeaux moved intrastate from San Antonio, Texas to El Paso, Texas, he failed to update his change of address within the three-day period as required by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) of 2006. Even though Kebodeaux was unconditionally released from custody before SORNA was enacted, he was sentenced to one year in federal prison. The Fifth Circuit overturned his conviction en banc, meaning that every judge on the Fifth Circuit heard the case rather than the traditional three-judge panel. They found the registration requirement unconstitutional because Congress lacked jurisdiction over Kebodeaux after they unconditionally released him from custody.

The government’s arguments to the contrary, the court held, would permit not just “unending criminal authority” over Kebodeaux but unending authority over every American who was once in federal jurisdiction, which is, of course, every American.

In a sense, the government is now arguing for the “Hotel California” theory of jurisdiction: you can check out, but you can never leave. 

Yesterday, Cato filed an amicus brief, joined by Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, arguing that it would be improper under the Necessary and Proper Clause to permit Congress to have unending authority over all Americans. Congress already lacks a general power to punish criminals, much less monitor previously released criminals and impose new and onerous restrictions on them at will. Moreover, there is nothing constitutionally special about sex offenders as a class. Congress should not be allowed to designate a sub-class of people within its jurisdiction as “special” and then assert perpetual jurisdiction over them. These type of assertions of power are precisely what the “proper” element of the Necessary and Proper Clause is supposed to protect against–ones that, even if “necessary,” would give Congress unbounded power. 

Indeed, if the Court rules in favor of the government’s position, it will give Congress virtually unlimited power to regulate nearly all Americans. In essence, it would justify the gradual imposition of endless new requirements on anyone who had previously been subject to federal jurisdiction. Cumulatively, these federal impositions amount to unlimited federal authority over anyone who has ever been held in federal custody or otherwise in federal jurisdiction. This cannot be a power vested in a Congress with “few and defined” powers. As the Supreme Court held in the Obamacare case, Congress doesn’t have the power to “regulate an individual from cradle to grave.”  

Cato’s Final Obamacare Brief — on the Individual Mandate — Joined by 16 Other Groups and 333 State Legislators

With the scheduled three days of oral argument six weeks away, Cato filed its fourth and final Supreme Court amicus brief in the Obamacare saga, this time on the most critical issue: the constitutionality of the individual mandate. Alongside Pacific Legal Foundation, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 14 other organizations, and a bipartisan group of 333 state legislators, we urge the Court to affirm the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling that the mandate exceeds Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.

Under modern doctrine, regulating intrastate economic activity can be a “necessary” means of carrying out Congress’s regulatory authority (as that term is understood under the Necessary and Proper Clause) if, in the aggregate, it has a substantial effect on interstate commerce. But the obvious corollary is that regulating non-economic activity cannot be “necessary,” regardless of its economic effects. And a power to regulate inactivity – to compel activity – is even more remote from Congress’s commerce power.

The government characterizes not being insured as the activity of making an “economic decision” of how to finance health care services, but the notion that probable future participation in the marketplace constitutes economic activity now pushes far beyond existing precedent. Further, that definition of “activity” leaves people with no way of avoiding federal regulation; at any moment, we are all not engaged in an infinite set of activities. Retaining the categorical distinction between economic and non-economic activity limits Congress to regulating intrastate activities closely connected to interstate commerce – thus preserving the proper role of states and preventing Congress from using the Commerce Clause as a federal police power.  The categorical distinction also provides a judicially administrable standard that obviates fact-based inquiries into the purported economic effects and the relative necessity of any one regulation, an exercise for which courts are ill-suited.

Finally, the mandate violates the “proper” prong of the Necessary and Proper Clause in that it unconstitutionally commandeers the people – and in doing so, circumvents the Constitution’s preference for political accountability. The Constitution permits Congress to intrude on state and popular sovereignty only in certain limited circumstances: when doing so is textually based or when it relates to the duties of citizenship. For example, Congress may require people to respond to the census or serve on juries. In forcing people to engage in transactions with private companies, the individual mandate allows Congress and the president to evade being held accountable for what would otherwise be a tax increase. In improperly commandeering citizens to engage in economic activity, the mandate obscures Obamacare’s true costs and thus avoids the political accountability and transparent budgeting that the Constitution demands.

The mandate is thus neither a necessary nor proper means for carrying into execution Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. Upholding it would fundamentally alter the relationship of the federal government to the states and the people; nobody would ever again be able to claim plausibly that the Constitution limits federal power.

Published: My First Year Battling Obamacare

Back in June, I wrote about a law review article I had just completed that detailed my first year or so of activities surrounding the Obamacare lawsuits.  Well, now it’s officially published, in the Florida International University Law Review.  Here’s the abstract:

This article chronicles the (first) year I spent opposing the constitutionality of Obamacare: Between debates, briefs, op-eds, blogging, testimony, and media, I have spent well over half of my time since the legislation’s enactment on attacking Congress’s breathtaking assertion of federal power in this context. Braving transportation snafus, snowstorms, and Eliot Spitzer, it’s been an interesting ride. And so, weaving legal arguments into first-person narrative, I hope to add a unique perspective to an important debate that goes to the heart of this nation’s founding principles. The individual mandate is Obamacare’s highest-profile and perhaps most egregious constitutional violation because the Supreme Court has never allowed – Congress has never claimed – the power to require people to engage in economic activity. If it is allowed to stand, then no principled limits on federal power remain. But it doesn’t have to be this way; as the various cases wend their way to an eventual date at the Supreme Court, I will be with them, keeping the government honest in court and the debate alive in the public eye.

Go here to download “A Long Strange Trip: My First Year Challenging the Constitutionality of Obamacare.”

What’s Next in the Obamacare Litigation?

My colleagues and I have covered the substance of the Eleventh Circuit ruling that two weeks ago struck down the individual mandate, but where do we go from here?  Why hasn’t the Supreme Court yet resolved the conflict between that ruling and the Sixth Circuit’s from earlier in the summer?  When will it do so?  A few points:

  1. The government is now likely to seek en banc review, meaning that they want the entire 10-judge court to review the 3-judge panel’s ruling.  It’s extremely unlikely that the Eleventh Circuit would grant such a motion because the panel is already 2-1 against and the members of the court not on the panel are a 4-3 Republican-appointed majority.  You need a majority (6 of 10) to get en banc review, which means the dissenting Judge Stanley Marcus from the panel, plus the three other Democratic appointees, plus two others.  Not gonna happen.  Thus, a government motion for en banc rehearing would be a purely political ploy to push the eventual Supreme Court decision past the election – no legal reason to do it. The release of the decision not to grant en banc review (which doesn’t require a written opinion) could be delayed, however, by the writing of a dissent from that denial.
  2. The earliest the Supreme Court could grant cert – on the existing petition out of the Sixth Circuit – is the moment after this blogpost goes live.  (Note that Cato adjunct scholar Tim Sandefur filed an amicus brief supporting that petition for the Pacific Legal Foundation, which brief he describes here.)  More realistically, it would be the week before the term opens for argument in October, right after the so-called long conference, when the justices review and rule on all the petitions that have come in over the summer. But they’ll likely wait to get the Eleventh Circuit case because they’d probably rather hear from the 26 states (and their counsel, former solicitor general Paul Clement) than any other plaintiffs. Here’s where it gets interesting: Assuming the government asks for en banc review, the plaintiffs could still file their own cert petition because they lost on severability and the Medicaid-coercion issue. Stay tuned.
  3. I still think this will get to the Court this term one way or another, with argument in the spring and a decision the last week of June.
  4. No stay of the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling is needed because the individual mandate doesn’t go into effect until 2014 and that’s the only provision that’s been struck down. So we don’t need to go into the type of analysis we did after Judge Vinson’s decision about what the federal government is authorized to do to keep implementing the legislation, in the 26 states or generally.

For more analysis, largely based on the above, see Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog.

An Unprecedented Expansion of Federal Power

That’s how I describe the individual mandate in my contribution to SCOTUSblog’s online symposium on Obamacare, which Trevor Burrus has already highlighted.  Here’s an excerpt:

All the Obamacare legal challenges boil down to Congress’s authority – or lack thereof – to require people to buy private insurance.  Although unfortunately not dispositive of modern judicial decisions, the text of the Constitution demands that the Supreme Court strike down the individual mandate as an unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce.  Finding the mandate constitutional would be the first interpretation of the Commerce Clause to permit the regulation of inactivity – in effect requiring an individual to engage in an economic transaction.

Moreover, upholding Obamacare would grant the federal government wide latitude to mandate that Americans engage in activities of its choosing.  An expansive holding here would fundamentally alter the relationship between the government and the people.  If the challenges fail, there will be no principled limits on federal power.

I go on to describe the current state of play at the appellate and outline what we can expect going forward, as well as providing links to useful resources on this issue.  Read the whole thing.

Shooting for State Sovereignty

On October 1, 2009, Montana passed the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, the purpose of which was to regulate guns manufactured and kept within Montana state lines under a less restrictive regulatory regime than federal law provides. That same day, to ensure that Montanans could enjoy the benefits of this less restrictive state regulation, the Montana Shooting Sports Association filed a declaratory judgment claim in federal court.

The lawsuit’s importance is not limited to Montana, as seven other states have passed laws similar to the MFFA and 20 states have introduced such legislation. The goal here is to reinforce state regulatory authority over commerce that is by definition intrastate, to take back some of the ground occupied by modern Commerce Clause jurisprudence.

The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss, however, and MSSA appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Now on appeal, Cato has joined the Goldwater Institute to file an amicus brief supporting the MSSA and arguing that federal power does not preempt Montana’s ability to exercise its sovereign police powers to facilitate the exercise of individual rights protected by the Second and Ninth Amendments. More specifically, for federal law to trump the MFFA, the government must claim that the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses give it the power to regulate wholly intrastate manufacture, sale, and possession of guns, which MSSA argues is a state-specific market distinct from any related national one.

Our brief argues that federal preemption would violate the “letter and spirit of the Constitution” and that heightened judicial scrutiny is required whenever the federal government invokes an implied power to override state sovereignty. The MFFA should not be preempted because: (1) principles of state sovereignty limit federal power; (2) preemption would violate the federalism framework established in National League of Cities v. Usery; and (3) preemption would not allow state sovereignty to serve its role as a proper check of federal power. The Supreme Court has made clear that Congress is not the sole venue for states and individuals to seek protection from federal overreach and so this case is fundamentally a dispute over federalism—which should allow for state regulation of local matters to flourish in concert with federal power over “truly national” concerns.

Allowing preemption here would have the perverse effect of allowing the federal government to regulate “states as states” while impairing states’ ability to operate in areas of traditional governmental functions. The Ninth Circuit should thus find that district court committed reversible error in dismissing the lawsuit and, as a result, MSSA should be allowed to pursue its case beyond the pleadings stage.

The Ninth Circuit will hear the case of Montana Sports Shooting Association v. Holder in late summer or early fall.

My First Year Battling Obamacare

Most people are by now familiar with the broad strokes of the lawsuits challenging Obamacare: more than 30 cases around the country allege, among other claims, that the federal government lacks the constitutional authority to require people to buy a product (the individual health insurance mandate)—and the only way to avoid the mandate is to become poor.  After decisions going both ways in the district courts, we are now at the appellate stage in five of those suits, including Virginia’s and the Florida-led 26-state effort.

Those who follow developments in constitutional law are also familiar with the broad legal arguments being made: that the power to regulate interstate commerce, even when read in the context of the power to make laws that are necessary and proper to executing that specified commerce power, does not include the power to force someone to engage in economic activity—to create, in effect, the commerce being regulated.  Not even during the height of the New Deal did the government require this, and there are no parallels in the Civil Rights Era or since.  (And also that Congress can’t do this under the taxing power for various reasons that I won’t go into here; even those courts ruling for the government have rejected the taxing power assertion.)

Finally, those who follow Cato are probably aware that I’ve been spending a good part of my time since Obamacare’s enactment in March 2010 in this area: filing briefs, writing articles, debating around the country, appearing in the media.  And I’m not alone; our entire Center for Constitutional Studies has been involved in various capacities.  Indeed, Cato Chairman Bob Levy himself produced a very useful Primer for Nonlawyers about what is the clearly the central constitutional and public policy debate of our generation.

Well, if anyone cares to peek beyond the curtain of how Cato’s legal efforts against Obamacare have evolved, I have an article on that forthcoming in the Florida International University Law Review.  Here’s the abstract:

This article chronicles the (first) year I spent opposing the constitutionality of Obamacare: Between debates, briefs, op-eds, blogging, testimony, and media, I have spent well over half of my time since the legislation’s enactment on attacking Congress’s breathtaking assertion of federal power in this context. Braving transportation snafus, snowstorms, and Eliot Spitzer, it’s been an interesting ride. And so, weaving legal arguments into first-person narrative, I hope to add a unique perspective to an important debate that goes to the heart of this nation’s founding principles. The individual mandate is Obamacare’s highest-profile and perhaps most egregious constitutional violation because the Supreme Court has never allowed – Congress has never claimed – the power to require people to engage in economic activity. If it is allowed to stand, then no principled limits on federal power remain. But it doesn’t have to be this way; as the various cases wend their way to an eventual date at the Supreme Court, I will be with them, keeping the government honest in court and the debate alive in the public eye.

Read the whole thing, titled “A Long Strange Trip: My First Year Challenging the Constitutionality of Obamacare.”