And now, for the main event.
Today, the Court tackles the individual mandate, and whether Congress has taken a step too far by enacting it. The question is basic: Is the individual mandate constitutional? The consequences are heady. Whichever way the Court decides will have a critical effect on the scope of Congress’ power – and possibly, our freedom.
What’s At Stake?
The individual mandate – or, as the federal government will call it, the “minimum coverage provision” – has been under fire ever since the inception of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, in 2009. The political Left argues that a mandate is absolutely necessary in order to address our country’s dire healthcare situation: poor “free riders” seeking and receiving care under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, which in turn drives up both taxes and the cost of insurance premiums. Besides, they argue, healthcare is a necessity, which everyone will need, and thus ought to have. The mandate simply prods the uninsured to do what’s best, both for themselves and in turn, the country at large. The Right, on the other hand, opposes the mandate on the grounds that it’s a total violation of freedom, that it will not succeed in reducing the overall cost of insurance, and what’s more, that down the line, it will result in socialized, government-sponsored healthcare programs rife with rationing and lines for doctors.
Of course, the Court isn’t supposed to address the political concerns attached to the healthcare issue (nevemind the speculation that it does). Instead, its main concern is determining whether Congress has overstepped its bounds, and does the Court need to check that power?
When Congress passed the PPACA, it justified the individual mandate using the Commerce Clause, which reads, “The Congress shall have Power…To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.” It’s one of the most frequently exercised powers, the cornerstone of hundreds bills passing through Congress each year. In this case, Congress has classified the decision to remain uninsured as one which “substantially affects” interstate commerce, and thus subject to regulation under the commerce clause.