Conservative Contingent: On Health Insurance Mandate, No He Can’t

Andrew Lipian, Columnist

Barack Obama, the haughty former University of Chicago law professor whom America elected President in 2008, is a member of the executive branch and has no authority to render interpretations of the Constitution. This obvious fact highlights the demagogic overreach in his recent commentary on a potential Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of his signature health care reform law, in which he warns us about “judicial activism, or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.” You see, Obama apparently thinks that constitutional interpretation is “judicial activism.”

The President arrogantly preempted the Court’s decision by deciding for himself that Obamacare is constitutional, mocking the judicial branch as a mere epiphenomenal phase in passing what in his mind ought to be a no-brainer dismissal of a 26-state lawsuit assailing the bill’s constitutionality. Fortunately, he is neither the last word on the matter nor is it a no-brainer — it is perhaps the greatest domestic showdown of our lifetime, the outcome of which will impact all Americans who will have no choice other than to stuff their mouths with Daddy government’s forced medicine program.

The bill’s most controversial provision is an “individual mandate,” compelling citizens to purchase health insurance whether they want to or not. Democrats believe this power derives from the Constitution’s Commerce Clause in Article 1, Section 8, granting them authority to regulate interstate commerce. However, the 10th Amendment indicates that those powers not resting in the federal government or “prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Interestingly, our constitutional system of dual sovereignty maintains that health and safety regulations imposed on an individual can only be regulated by the states. This is precisely the reason 26 states sued, leaving the onus on the federal government to defend itself.

Struggling to defend Obamacare in court was Daddy government’s stooge, Solicitor General Donald Verilli, whose arguments floundered in comedic, pass-the-popcorn entertainment trying to defend the individual mandate. Among the tendentious arguments he aired before the Court are the claims that health care is unique in an important way, since everybody participates in the health care market or will at some point, and that this unique status justifies federal oversight of the market.

While it is true that we all need health care, this does not make health care unique. As Justice Scalia pointed out, burial or cremation services are also a universal expense, but it nonetheless seems bizarre to require an 18 year old to subsidize the burial of others, or to even purchase burial services at that age. Additionally, it seems awkward to force a young, healthy individual to subsidize health care services to others that he does not require himself. Consequently, he may not find it lucrative to buy health insurance until later. This individual surrenders such freedoms under Obamacare.

But I digress from the most important point: If the Commerce Clause can be used to mandate the purchase of services that do not apply to you, it need not stop with health care. The government could force you to buy virtually anything they wish, regardless of your will, using the argument that universal market participation merits this power for commodities from food to phones. Verilli draws a distinction between foods like broccoli — something paid for up front — and insurance, which is a means of paying for something else, but this is not an important consideration. Whether one buys something indirectly to provide a service, or pays for that thing directly, both would be defensible under the government’s interpretation of the commerce clause. Health care is not so unique after all, and the argument falls on its face. Even if it were unique, would federal oversight be justified anyway?

The answer to this question behooves somebody to come up with a better idea than insurance, because, as Justice Ginsberg conceded, the collection of fees is “how insurance works.” Often, people end up hurt by “the way it works,” and it is saddening — but the alternative is not just saddening but terrifying. Besides the obvious constitutional burden, which Verilli cannot eliminate by vaguely citing the Commerce Clause, the ramifications on what liberties the government could purloin from you are unprecedented. I would like to echo Benjamin Franklin, who warned, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Equity is the responsibility of the legal system to regulate, but if the system of insurance is the problem rather than the fact that some don’t have it, perhaps Obamacare is not the answer. Perhaps the Constitution doesn’t matter to you, and the indefensibility of Verilli’s constitutional arguments is irrelevant. We will then embark on a journey to social responsibility that compels rather than encourages altruism, charting a course toward tyranny.

Regardless, when Obama indicts the Court of Judicial Activism, thuggishly undermining the constitutional authority of one-third of the federal government, perhaps he should consider why Verilli made such a fool of himself in court. Here’s a novel idea: Maybe the President can simply do his job and leave constitutional interpretation to the judicial branch. Given the nascent probability that his unconstitutional bill will be overturned in the Supreme Court’s final verdict, perhaps the obvious answer isn’t “yes, we can,” but rather “no, he can’t.”