Healthcare Showdown at the Supreme Court (Part 1)

With Obamacare headed for the Supreme Court on March 26, Legal Lad explores the 4 major issues facing the highest court in the land. First up: the "individual mandate"

Adam Freedman
2-minute read
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of the new federal health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This is one of the most momentous showdowns in Supreme Court history – the Court’s decision will be a major landmark in determining the scope of federal power.  This week, I’m going to preview the four major issues the Court will consider. The first issue is the so-called “individual mandate.”    

The individual mandate is the centerpiece of ACA.  It creates a legal duty for all individuals in the U.S. to obtain health insurance that meets federal standards by 2014.  The constitutional issue is whether Congress has the authority to impose such a mandate.  

The Constitution grants only certain “enumerated powers” to Congress. In the case of ACA, the government relies mainly on the constitutional power to regulate “commerce . . . among the several states.”  Granted, unless your doctor happens to live in a different state, most individual healthcare transactions do not take place “among the several states.”

However, the Supreme Court has held that Congress has the power to regulate economic activity that, in the aggregate, will affect interstate commerce.  In 1942, the Court upheld New Deal regulations that dictate the amount of wheat a person could grow for his own family’s consumption!  (Wickard v. Filburn).  

However, opponents of the law point out that Congress has never used its power to compel individuals to purchase a product, whether they want it or not. If they can force us to buy health insurance today – they ask – what’s next?  A mandate to eat our vegetables?  

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