Constitutional Challenges to the Health Care Mandate: Based in Politics, Not Law
Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney School of Law
June 23, 2011
University of Pennsylvania Law Review PENNumbra, Vol. 160, p. 19, 2011
While critics of the individual mandate to purchase health care have mounted a vigorous attack on its constitutionality, Prof. Mark Hall skillfully dismantles their claims in his article in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
Mandate opponents have erected a Potemkin village of logic that has a facade of credibility but ultimately is deeply flawed. As Hall observes, one might reject the mandate on the basis of plausible readings of the constitutional text or in terms of 19th Century and early 20th Century Supreme Court opinions. However, critics cannot square their view with the Court’s understanding of constitutional doctrine and theory over the past 70 years.
In this response, I highlight important points in Hall’s analysis and extend his argument with additional considerations. For example, the individual mandate should be upheld not only on the basis of the Commerce Clause power, as Hall argues, but also on the basis of the taxing power.
If the constitutional arguments against the mandate are weak, how can we explain the unexpectedly high level of uncertainty about the mandate’s validity? The answer to this question lies in politics, not law.
In particular, there is good reason to think that public anger about the economy is being vented in the form of opposition to the healthcare legislation. In effect, the public may be saying that Congress should have been using its Commerce Clause power to improve the economy, not to reform the health care system. In this view, the decision by Congress to divert the Commerce Clause power to pass an individual mandate is a metaphor for Congress diverting its attention away from the economy. Once the economy recovers, public opposition to the health care law may well dissipate.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 14
Keywords: commerce clause, taxing power, health care reform, individual mandate
JEL Classification: I18, K19
Date posted: June 24, 2011 ; Last revised: February 18, 2012