Although the breadth of Congress’s power to tax is greater than its power to regulate commerce, the taxing power does not give Congress the same degree of control over individual behavior. Once we recognize that Congress may regulate a particular decision under the Commerce Clause, the Federal Government can bring its full weight to bear. Congress may simply command individuals to do as it directs. An individual who disobeys may be subjected to criminal sanctions. Those sanctions can include not only fines and imprisonment, but all the attendant consequences of being branded a criminal: deprivation of otherwise protected civil rights, such as the right to bear arms or vote in elections; loss of employment opportunities; social stigma; and severe disabilities in other controversies, such as custody or immigration dispute.
By contrast, Congress’s authority under the taxing power is limited to requiring an individual to pay money into the Federal Treasury, no more. If a tax is properly paid, the Government has no power to compel or punish individuals subject to it. We do not make light of the severe burden that taxation—especially taxation motivated by a regulatory purpose—can impose. But imposition of a tax nonetheless leaves an individual with a lawful choice to do or not do a certain act, so long as he is willing to pay a tax levied on that choice.
The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness. In politics, taxes matter because they are so unpopular. For the Supreme Court, however, the taxing power is crucial here because it enables Congress to advance a national policy without endangering liberty. You may have to pay for your health care decisions — that was true before this law passed — but you will not be punished, sanctioned, deprived or jailed for them.
Chief Justice John Roberts ruled in favor of the mandate, and interestingly Kennedy sided with the minority. (Congress.org):
The court’s decision is undeniably an historic and politically all-important victory for Obama and all the congressional Democrats who supported the signature domestic policy achievement of his presidency.
They now have a golden stamp of judicial approval for their crusade as an appropriate exercise of federal power — even though the justices said it was the power to tax that Congress used properly, not its power to regulate interstate commerce.
(Chief Justice Roberts and the four most reliable liberals — Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor — united behind the notion that a federal law could make people pay a penalty if they could afford minimal coverage but decided against buying such a policy. Kennedy, the perceived swing vote, instead wrote the minority opinion asserting that the entire law should be struck down; he was joined by Alito, Scalia and Thomas.)
Whether or not the public agrees with the law’s now-enshrined policies over the long term — or even for the 131 days until the election — the court has essentially taken away the sting of any rhetoric deriding the president or Hill Democrats as overzealous power grabbers. No lesser conservative authority than the Roberts Court has said it is so, for the ages.
At the same time, though, Romney and the congressional Republicans have been handed a far-from-worthless political consolation prize. By keeping the law on the books almost just as it was enacted 26 months ago — with the apparent exception of the Medicaid mandate on the states — the court guarantees that the GOP will campaign vigorously this summer and fall on the promise to do what the court would not: get the statute off the books altogether, or at least remove its heart, the individual mandate. Within minutes of the ruling, Boehner announced that the House would hold another vote to repeal the statute in two weeks, as soon as it returns from the July Fourth recess.
The President on the ruling:
And now on to amusing reactions on the right…how about this deranged quote from Sen. Rand Paul.
“Just because a couple people on the Supreme Court declare something to be ‘constitutional’ does not make it so. The whole thing remains unconstitutional. While the court may have erroneously come to the conclusion that the law is allowable, it certainly does nothing to make this mandate or government takeover of our health care right,” Sen. Paul said.
“Obamacare is wrong for Americans. It will destroy our health care system. This now means we fight every hour, every day until November to elect a new President and a new Senate to repeal Obamacare,” he continued.
So, I guess any ruling you don’t like is still unconstitutional. Good thing he’s not on the bench. Now Jimmy LaSalvia of the gay conservative group GOProud:
“Today, the Supreme Court has ignored the Constitution and given the federal government unfettered and unchecked power. Today is a good day for big government and a bad day for individual liberty. This decision reminds us of how important it is to elect conservatives to the House, Senate and the White House that will protect our individual liberties, because it is clear that the Supreme Court is unwilling to do so.
“Free market healthcare reform would expand access to domestic partner benefits and put gay people in charge of their healthcare decisions. By upholding Obamacare, the Supreme Court has upheld legislation that hurts all Americans, but especially hurts gay and lesbian families.”
Log Cabin Republicans:
Today’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court upholding Obamacare is a license for Washington to continue its expansion into the lives of American citizens and businesses. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Simply put, Congress may tax and spend.”
“By upholding even the most intrusive provision of Obamacare, the individual mandate, the court has enabled Washington’s addiction to big government and coercive taxes,” said Christian Berle, Log Cabin Republicans Deputy Executive Director. “The individual mandate forced through Congress was an unprecedented expansion of federal power in blatant disregard of the will of the American people. Log Cabin looks forward to working with our Republican allies in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare with real, market-driven reforms that will lower costs while preserving the standard of care Americans deserve.
Log Cabin Republicans also have not forgotten that Democrats in Congress stripped provisions protecting LGBT families out of healthcare reform when it was passed. We remain committed to ending the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory treatment of employer-provided healthcare for domestic partners. While the Court may have found Obamacare to be constitutional, that does not mean it has been carved in stone. Now is the time to go back to the drawing board and institute reforms that work for all Americans.”
Raw Story unearthed this reaction from the black conservative mouthpiece, Project 21:
Octolaryngologist Dr. Elaina George wrote, “By upholding ObamaCare, the Supreme Court ignored the Constitution. It placed corporate interests and profits, along with government control, above the needs of doctors and patients. This decision virtually guarantees the destruction of the doctor-patient relationship, and — along with it — individualized health care, innovation and access while it perpetuates the worst aspects of our medical system.”
How about these opinions (see more at Media Matters’ post, “An Hour-Long Right-Wing Media Freak-Out Over Health Care Reform Ruling”?