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Constitutional Mortality: Precedential Effects of Striking the Individual Mandate

Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 75, No. 3, p. 107, 2012

Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1959612

7 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2011 Last revised: 4 Apr 2012

Mark A. Hall

Wake Forest University - School of Law

Date Written: November 14, 2011

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Affordable Care Act, public health, constitutional powers

Suggested Citation

Hall, Mark A., Constitutional Mortality: Precedential Effects of Striking the Individual Mandate (November 14, 2011). Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 75, No. 3, p. 107, 2012; Wake Forest Univ. Legal Studies Paper No. 1959612. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1959612 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1959612

Mark A. Hall (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States
336-716-9807 (Phone)

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