Commerce clause

  • April 1, 2013
    BookTalk
    The Tough Luck Constitution and the Assault on Healthcare Reform
    By: 
    Andrew Koppelman

    by Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law, Northwestern University Law School

    Last spring, the Supreme Court came within one vote of taking health insurance away from over 30 million people, exposing a dangerous intellectual trend that, simply put, threatens to hurt you and your family. The near-success of the constitutional arguments against the Affordable Care Act is scary news, because those arguments silently rely on a philosophy at war with the most fundamental purpose of the Constitution: to empower the American people to solve their most pressing problems.

    The ACA included an individual mandate to have insurance, because no other path to universal insurance was workable. Even Republicans had supported such a mandate for years. Universal health insurance logically means that everyone must have insurance. 

    The litigation depended on a different ideal, which we can call Tough Luck Libertarianism: any obligation of healthy people to contribute to care for the sick is an intolerable imposition on liberty; if you get sick and can’t pay for care, that’s your tough luck.

    The constitutional challenge was devised by conservative lawyers who had, for a long time, been eager to impose limits on Congressional power. They proposed a new and previously unheard-of constitutional rule:  the state can’t make you do things or buy things. It may regulate only those who engage in some self-initiated action.

    This action/inaction distinction came advertised as a great bulwark of liberty. Actually, it was a crude bit of political opportunism. No one can live in the world without engaging in self-initiated actions all the time. This rule is not a serious constraint on government power. It allows Congress to act in every case in which the citizen has voluntarily taken some action. Most of us can’t realistically avoid having jobs and buying things, and it’s not much consolation to be told that I can avoid oppression if I live in the woods and eat berries. This limitation is unlikely to have any application after the ACA litigation, and is patently tailored to bring about a desired result in a single case.

  • September 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The effort to amend the Constitution to counter the ever-growing corporate influence on lawmakers and elections is a noble one, but there is a more useful and far-reaching way to correct the matter – make corporations more democratic. That’s law Professor Kent Greenfield’s take in a new article for Democracy.

    It’s an extensive piece that helps explain why the Supreme Court’s 2010 opinion in Citizens United v. FEC is quickly producing a corrosive effect on elections from coast to coast, but also why seeking a constitutional amendment is a wobbly strategy.

    Not long after the high court in Citizens United invalidated some major campaign finance regulation and found that corporations have nearly unfettered rights to funnel their expenditures into elections, an effort was launched to amend the Constitution.

    John Bonifaz and Jeffrey Clements co-founded Free Speech For People a group devoted to a constitution amendment overturning Citizens United.

    A recent debate with Bonifaz helped spur Greenfield to write the Democracy piece. Greenfield, who teaches business and constitutional law at Boston College, says that too many progressives have decided that constitutional law solution is needed to trump the Citizens United. Instead, Greenfield argues that it is corporations and how we understand them that need to change.

    “While the constitutional effort is defensive and palliative, a campaign to redesign the corporation itself would be affirmative and transformative,” Greenfield writes. “To cure Citizens United, we don’t have to amend the Constitution – we need to rethink corporations.”

    The nation’s laws governing corporations are weak and shareholders, despite widespread belief, do not have much to do with running corporations. (He notes for instance that shareholders are “not ‘owners’ in any meaningful way. If you own a share of General Motors, you will still be tossed out of its headquarters as a trespasser if you try to enter without an appointment.”) In Citizens United the Supreme Court majority, Greenfield notes, saw corporations as “associations of citizens,” but in reality America’s corporations are largely representative of the wealthy few, the 1 percent.

  • July 11, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Erin Ryan, a Fulbright Scholar in China. She is a professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School, where she will return this summer. Ryan is also author of Federalism and the Tug of War Within. Read her previous guest post “Health Care Reform and Federalism’s Tug of War Within.”


    In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) decision, it’s easy to get lost in debate over the various arguments about how the commerce and tax powers do or don’t vindicate the individual mandate. But the most immediately significant portion of the ruling –

    and one with far more significance for most actual governance – is the part of the decision limiting the federal spending power that authorizes Medicaid. It is the first time the Court has ever struck down congressional decision-making on this ground, and it has important implications for the way that many state-federal regulatory partnerships work.

    The Spending Clause authorizes Congress to spend money for the general welfare. Congress can fund programs advancing constitutionally specified federal responsibilities (like post offices), and it can also fund state programs regulating beyond specifically delegated federal authority (like education).  Sometimes, Congress just funds state programs that it likes. But it can also offer money conditionally – say, to any state willing to adopt a particular rule or program that Congress wants. In these examples, Congress is effectively saying, “here is some money, but for use only with this great program we think you should have” (like health-insuring poor children). 

  • July 10, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While liberals continue to ponderously ponder how to refute the right’s method of constitutional interpretation called originalism, the right continues to advance a simplistic and destructive story that the Constitution is all about severely limiting the federal government’s reach. 

    For far too long liberals have obsessed over methods of constitutional interpretation, leaving rightists to advance the constitutional storyline, which says the nation’s governing document only promotes individualism, limited government, and of course Christianity.

    As law professor and historian William E. Forbath recently noted in an op-ed for The New York Times liberals have far too often shrugged their shoulders at this narrative, claiming that “rights and wrongs of economic life” are not addressed by the Constitution, but instead through politics.

    “That’s a major failing,” Forbath (pictured) writes, “because there is a venerable rival to constitutional laissez-faire: a rich distributive tradition of constitutional law and politics, rooted in the framers’ generation. None other than James Madison was among its prominent expounders – in his draft of the Virginia Constitution, he included rights to free education and public land.”

    In a more expansive piece for the book, The Constitution in 2020, Forbath explores the “historical heft” of a century-long effort “to make good on the constitutional justice of livelihoods and social and economic rights ….”

    For example, Abraham Lincoln and other founders of the Republican Party argued that equal rights also included “a fair distribution of initial endowments,” and FDR in his State of the Union proposing a Second Bill of Rights, said the government “owes to everyone an avenue to possess himself of a portion of [the nation’s wealth] sufficient for his needs, through his own work.”

    Moreover, Forbath noted, African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement strived to “craft a broader social rights agenda,” including the right to a decent income. During the Civil Rights movement, the federal courts took note of the efforts in “undoing the exclusion of black women from welfare rolls,” he continued.

    The Supreme Court in its 1970 Goldberg v. Kelly opinion, said, “From its founding the Nation’s basic commitment has been to foster the dignity and well-being of all persons within its borders. We have come to recognize that forces not within the control of the poor contribute to their poverty.”

  • July 3, 2012
    Humor

    by John Schachter

    When my son was maybe six years old, he learned an important life lesson: when you start an apology with the words, “I’m not really sorry,” it doesn’t count as an apology. Unfortunately, in his almost 63 years, Bill O’Reilly has yet to grasp that valuable rule.

    In late March, when the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing oral arguments on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, O’Reilly had ACS President Caroline Fredrickson on his show to “discuss” the issue. Much of the so-called discussion consisted of O’Reilly condescendingly lecturing Fredrickson with faulty analysis, but she was able to calmly explain how the taxing power could very well support the law’s constitutionality.

    O’Reilly staked his ground (and reputation) quite clearly when he said, “Ms. Fredrickson, you are going to lose and your arguments are specious … and it's going to be 5 to 4. And if I'm wrong, I will come on, and I will play your clip, and I will apologize for being an idiot.”

    When he returned to his show from vacation four days after the high court’s ruling, O’Reilly addressed the issue, which mainstream and social media representatives had been highlighting for days.

    I’m not really sorry,” he opened.

    “But I am a man of my word,” O’Reilly continued, showing no apparent recognition of the irony. “So I apologize for not factoring in the John Roberts situation. Truthfully, I never in a million years would thought the chief justice would go beyond the scope of the commerce clause to date and into taxation. I may be an idiot for not considering that.”

    (Childhood translation: “Billy, tell your sister you’re sorry.” “OK. I’m sorry … that she’s such a jerk.”)