Constitutional Mortality: Precedential Effects of Striking the Individual Mandate
Mark A. Hall
Wake Forest University - School of Law
November 14, 2011
Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 75, No. 3, p. 107, 2012
Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1959612
Because insurance is necessary for decent access to health care, credible studies estimate that eliminating the Affordable Care Act or its individual mandate could cause thousands of avoidable deaths a year. That is sobering, but far more chilling is the loss of life that might result from the constitutional precedent that a negative ACA ruling would set. If the challengers’ chief argument is accepted, it creates the frightening prospect that the federal government may be unable to respond effectively to a catastrophic public health emergency that threatens millions of lives, if effective response requires mandating citizen behaviors unconditioned on any engagement in commerce.
Credible scenarios for natural disasters and flu pandemics might require just such federal actions, in the form of mandatory vaccination, evacuation, screening, treatment, or even mundane sanitary measures – and the Commerce Clause is the only source for such power when military defense is not involved. State and local governments are the primary source of authority for such measures, but recent disasters and near-misses demonstrate the real possibility that their responses may prove inadequate. Thus, rather than fretting over what slippery-slope vegetables the government might force people to purchase if the mandate were upheld, courts should be much more concerned about the insurmountable barriers that a nullifying precedent would set for effective federal response to realistic catastrophes.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 7
Keywords: Affordable Care Act, public health, constitutional powers
Date posted: November 16, 2011 ; Last revised: April 4, 2012