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“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are… But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” – Rocky, from Rocky Balboa (2006)
This morning, the United States Supreme Court released its ruling on the constitutionality of ObamaCare. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that the individual mandate is constitutional, but only as a tax. Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor in this majority opinion. Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Samuel Alito, and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that the entirety of the law was unconstitutional. To put it bluntly, this is a very complicated ruling that few expected in its given form.
Let me give a bit of background on the case. In late March, the Court heard oral arguments regarding two cases challenging President Obama’s health care reform law: Florida v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, and National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. There were four major parts to the overall case:
1.) Does the Anti-Injunction Act preclude the plaintiff’s challenge to the individual mandate?
2.) Is the individual mandate constitutional under the commerce clause?
3.) Is the individual mandate severable from the rest of the law, or must the whole law be struck down if the mandate is unconstitutional?
4.) Does the law violate the basic tenets of federalism by coercing the states into accepting burdensome new Medicaid regulations and requirements, since the law threatens to end all federal funding for Medicaid if they refuse to comply?
The Court ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply. They ruled that the individual mandate is unconstitutional under the commerce clause, but NOT under the taxing and spending clause. Since the mandate was upheld under the taxing and spending clause, the issue of severability did not come into play. On the issue of Medicaid, they ruled that the law can offer increased funds to the states in exchange for the new rules and regulations, but it cannot coerce the states into taking the deal by threatening to withhold funds. This is a minor victory for conservatives, although it will likely be overlooked in light of the mandate being upheld.
Here’s my read: Few expected the Court to uphold the mandate as a tax. The fact that a majority ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional under the commerce clause is important, because it finally places a limit on that clause. In terms of precedent, the Court set a very good one with regards to that. Since the Obama administration actively argued before the Court that the mandate was not a tax, this decision comes out of left field. Here’s the relevant portion of the Constitution:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States… - Article 1, Section 8
If the mandate had been labeled a tax or argued to be a tax by the Obama administration, this ruling would have been significantly less surprising. As things stand, I disagree with the Court’s majority opinion regarding the general welfare clause, which is the only significant limitation on Congress’s power of taxation beyond common sense, but I’m thankful that they upheld the mandate under that clause instead of the commerce clause. Is it a small victory? Obviously. But it’s an important one, and I have little doubt that the precedent set by it will have important ramifications in future decisions.
Conservatives haven’t been able to trust the Court since the mid-1930s. This is a sad, depressing day that affirms the basic truth that we can only rely on ourselves, and our duly elected representatives. A Supreme Court decision striking down the mandate would have been a convenient shortcut, but we still have options. We must stay on offense. We must push for full repeal of ObamaCare.
This isn’t a “long-shot” by any means. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) has consistently pushed for full repeal, and the House of Representatives has voted for full repeal several times. They’ll do so again this July. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has pledged that if November brings a Republican majority in the Senate, the first vote held will be for full repeal. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has sworn that he will issue ObamaCare waivers to all fifty states in the event that he’s elected President, and that he will sign a full repeal law.
So, we have a good shot. No matter what, it’s very likely that the House of Representatives will stay in conservative hands after November. If Romney wins the election, he’ll at least provide the waivers. If conservatives take back the Senate as well, we’ll get full repeal through both chambers of Congress. However, if President Obama wins a second term as President, he’ll veto full repeal. This means that a Romney victory in November is critical for full repeal.
We have to stay on offense. We have to move forward. We have to elect enough conservatives to get full repeal. And once ObamaCare is finally repealed, we have to push for conservative health care reform.
This isn’t the end. The Supreme Court does not have the final say on the Constitution. The people do. So let’s get this done.