Monday, March 26, 2012

Healthy Reminder of SCOTUS's Role

Jay Westcott/POLITICO
By: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott

March 25, 2012 09:07 PM EDT

The U.S. Supreme Court is to start hearing arguments Monday on the legal challenge that Texas and 25 other states filed questioning the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s federal health care mandate. We believe the Constitution does not empower Congress to impose an insurance mandate on individual Americans.

For Americans who seek, as we do, to preserve individual liberty and local control against an increasingly intrusive federal government, this is one of the most important cases the Supreme Court has heard in decades. The court seems to agree — since it has scheduled three days of argument for “Obamacare.”

Equally important, our case reaches the Supreme Court after three separate U.S. courts have ruled that “Obamacare” is unconstitutional. There is no question that the unprecedented health care mandate raises serious constitutional questions about the scope of the federal government’s power.

The states’ constitutional objections were not always taken so seriously. Early on, critics dismissed the case as legally groundless. One Texas newspaper labeled the arguments “political theatrics.” The New York Times derisively referred to it as “the latest reminder that politicians will continue to posture and demagogue the issue.” When former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was asked which constitutional provision allowed Congress to force Americans to purchase health insurance, she scoffed, “Are you serious?”

It is important to remember the courts’ role in our democracy. Judges do not make policy decisions — that is Congress’s job. Consequently, the states’ legal challenge does not ask the court to decide whether the president’s health care law is wise or unwise or whether it will positively or negatively affect the country.

While reasonable people can disagree about the wisdom of the health care overhaul, the primary question for the Supreme Court is whether the law exceeds the authority granted to Congress by the Constitution.

In considering this, the Supreme Court most likely will start from the principle that Congress does not have limitless authority to create whatever laws it thinks will benefit the country. Instead, Congress has the powers only explicitly granted by the Constitution — and these are rightfully limited. The specific power at issue is Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which allows Congress to “regulate Commerce … among the several States.”

Until the president signed the health care bill, the federal government had never before tried to use its authority to regulate interstate commerce to require that every American purchase a good or service — like health insurance.

In every case where the court has rejected a challenge to Congress’s use of its commerce power, the challenged law regulated persons who chose to engage in some sort of commercial activity. In other words, these rulings hinged on the notion that a person’s decision to engage in interstate economic activity subjected that individual to congressional regulation. But Congress has never imposed a penalty on every American who fails to engage in commerce of the federal government’s choosing.

The 10th Amendment tells us that any powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the states and the American people. The limits of the federal government’s power can be difficult for the courts to measure.

But if the 10th Amendment means anything — there must be some line at which the federal government’s power yields to the rights reserved to the people. By mandating that every American must engage in federally required commerce — rather than merely regulating Americans who choose to engage in commerce — the individual mandate crosses the line and violates the Constitution.

Ultimately, this case is about far more than this health care law. It is about the fate of our constitutional liberties and preserving the rights and freedoms guaranteed all Americans under the Constitution.

This case is also about our right to insist that the federal government exercise only those powers granted by the people. That right is central to the Constitution.

Indeed, as the founders debated whether to adopt the Constitution in 1788, James Madison assured opponents of the proposed document that the federal government’s powers would be “few and defined.” His promise ultimately helped persuade critics to adopt the Constitution — by ensuring Americans that the federal government’s power would be limited.

That promise still rings true today. And because of it, the president’s health care mandate has to go.  Story can be found here.

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