Like a tragic literary figure, the 11th Circuit’s opinion declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional is doomed to failure by its own internal contradictions. What follows is a series of quotes directly from the opinion, paired to show how desperately the majority twisted logic in order to find its path to a unsupportable conclusion:
1. On the key necessary and proper argument, the court obfuscated as follows:
The government’s argument derives from a Commerce Clause doctrine of recent  vintage: . . . the “essential part of a larger regulation of economic activity” language in Lopez. . . . Raich [is the] the only instance in which a statute has been sustained by the larger regulatory scheme doctrine.
HOWEVER, the court was well aware that
The Supreme Court’s most definitive statement of the Necessary and Proper Clause’s function remains Chief Justice Marshall’s articulation in McCulloch v.Maryland: 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 421 (1819).
Today is a great day for liberty. By striking down the individual mandate, the Eleventh Circuit has reaffirmed that the Constitution places limits on the federal government’s power. Congress can do a great many things under modern constitutional jurisprudence, but, as the court concludes, “what Congress cannot do under the Commerce Clause is mandate that individuals enter into contracts with private insurance companies for the purchase of an expensive product from the time they are born until the time they die.” Indeed, just because Congress can regulate the health insurance industry does not mean it can also require people to buy that industry’s products.
One of the striking things about today’s ruling is that, for the first time in one of these cases, a Democrat-appointed judge, Frank Hull, has ruled against the government. Just as the Sixth Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton made waves by being the first Republican appointee to rule in the government’s favor, today’s 300-page ruling shows that the constitutional issues raised by the healthcare reform—and especially the individual mandate—are complex, serious, and non-ideological.
Supporters of limited constitutional government need to temper their celebrations—just as they wisely tempered their sorrows after the last ruling—because we must all now realize that this will not end until the Supreme Court rules. Nevertheless, today’s decision gives hope to those who believe that there are some things beyond the government’s reach and that the judiciary cannot abdicate its duty to hold Congress’s feet to the constitutional fire.
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review.
This post first appeared at Cato@Liberty – Cato Institute Blog.
Ezra Klein has published an engaging series of interviews regarding the filibuster, and the prospects and shape of reform for the Senate’s much maligned rule of procedure. The prospects for reform don’t look particularly bright. And as we come to reckon with one of the final products of the filibuster floor, the Senate’s health reform bill, we may want to take a moment to consider the filibuster itself– this need for 60 votes.
According to UCLA political scientist Barbara Sinclair, about 8 percent of major bills faced a filibuster in the 1960s. This decade, that jumped to 70 percent. The problem with the minority party continually making the majority party fail, of course, is that it means neither party can ever successfully govern the country.
It should also be noted that unlike today, a filibuster in the early 60’s required the arduous (and, it would seem, daunting physical task of continued speech and an inability to consider other legislation during the pendency of the filibuster. A set of circumstances which at times brought sleeping cots onto the Senate floor and may have served to limit the filibuster’s use.
Is it unconstitutional to mandate health insurance? It seems unprecedented to require citizens to purchase insurance simply because they live in the U.S. (rather than as a condition of driving a car or owning a business, for instance). Therefore, several credentialed, conservative lawyers think that compulsory health insurance is unconstitutional. See here and here and here. Their reasoning is unconvincing and deeply flawed. Since I’m writing in part for a non-legal audience, I’ll start with some basics and provide a lay explanation. (Go here for a fuller account).
Constitutional attacks fall into two basic categories: (1) lack of federal power (Congress simply lacks any power to do this under the main body of the Constitution); and (2) violation of individual rights protected by the “Bill of Rights.” Considering (1), Congress has ample power and precedent through the Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” to regulate just about any aspect of the national economy. Health insurance is quintessentially an economic good. The only possible objection is that mandating its purchase is not the same as “regulating” its purchase, but a mandate is just a stronger form of regulation. When Congressional power exists, nothing in law says that stronger actions are less supported than weaker ones.