"I don't worry about the Constitution," said Rep. Phil Hare, Democrat of Illinois, at a town hall meeting where voters questioned his support of the legislation that became Obamacare. You can find the clip on Youtube, where it has 462,084 hits.
That was before the 2010 election, in which Hare, running for a third term in a district designed by Democrats to elect a Democrat, was defeated 53 to 43 percent by Bobby Schilling, proprietor of a pizza parlor in East Moline.
A lot of politicians are worrying about the Constitution these days. Liberal commentators were shocked this past week when in three days of oral argument in the lawsuits challenging Obamacare, five Supreme Court justices -- a majority -- asked questions strongly suggesting they think the legislation is unconstitutional.
And so the Constitution -- and the limits it places on Congress' powers -- is once again part of our politics. And will continue to be, whichever way the Court rules.
For 70 years, since the court in 1942 said the government could limit the amount of wheat farmer Roscoe Filburn could grow on his own land to feed his own animals, it has been generally assumed that the federal government's power to regulate the economy had no limits.
That assumption survived in liberal precincts even though the court in 1995 overturned a law banning guns in schools and in 2000 ruled unconstitutional parts of the Violence Against Women Act.
But the arguments, developed by Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett and others, that it is beyond the powers conferred by the Constitution for Congress to mandate the purchase of a commercial product -- health insurance in Obamacare -- were certainly taken seriously by a majority of Supreme Court justices last week.
And the government's lawyers were unable to answer the questions of both liberal and conservative justices: If Congress can do this, what can't it do?
That question is likely to linger even if the court upholds Obamacare.
For the justices are not the only federal officials who take an oath to uphold the Constitution. So do the president and vice president, Cabinet members and other appointees, and every member of Congress. Phil Hare may not have been worried about the Constitution, but his constituents evidently thought he should be.
That means that every federal official has an obligation to act in line with the Constitution as he or she understands it. And that doesn't necessarily mean obeying Supreme Court decisions.
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