Chief Justice Roberts: The mandate is a tax

06/28/2012 04:03:00 PM
Tom Karst

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts surprised some folks with his majority opinion on the individual mandate.

In the end, the individual mandate passed Constitutional muster not because of the "Commerce clause" but because the justices agreed agreed with the government's secondary argument that the health care mandate is a tax.

Here are some excerpts from the majority opinion. First,  Roberts rejects the Commerce clause relevance, citing broccoli of course...

From the opinion:

Everyone will likely participate in the markets for food, clothing, transportation, shelter, or energy; that does not authorize Congress to direct them to purchase particular products in those or other markets today. The Commerce Clause is not a general license to regulate an individual from cradle to grave, simply because he will predictably engage in particular transactions. Any police power to regulate individuals as such, as opposed to their activities, remains vested in the States.

The Government argues that the individual mandate can be sustained as a sort of exception to this rule, because health insurance is a unique product. According to the Government, upholding the individual mandate would not justify mandatory purchases of items such as cars or broccoli because, as the Government puts it, “[h]ealth insurance is not purchased for its own sake like a car or broccoli; it is a means of financing health-care consumption and covering universal risks.”

But cars and broccoli are no more purchased for their “own sake” than health insurance. They are purchased to cover the need for transportation and food.

The Government says that health insurance and health care financing are “inherently integrated.” Brief for United States 41. But that does not mean the compelled purchase of the first is properly regarded as a regulation of the second. No matter how “inherently integrated” health insurance and health care consumption may be, they are not the same thing: They involve different transactions,entered into at different times, with different providers.

And for most of those targeted by the mandate, significant health care needs will be years, or even decades, away. The proximity and degree of connection between the mandate and the subsequent commercial activity is too lacking to justify an exception of the sort urged by the Government. The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce."


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