Individual Health Insurance Mandate Has Its Day In Court

March 26, 2012

This is the first of three updates on the Supreme Court case. Updates will follow tomorrow (Tuesday) and Wednesday.

Today the United States Supreme Court heard arguments about whether or not it should accept the Affordable Care Act individual mandate case at all, based on a federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act.  One purpose of this Act is to require a taxpayer who disagrees with the IRS to first pay the full amount of tax in question, then sue in court to get his money back.  As applied in the ObamaCare case, the idea is the Supreme Court should not hear the case until after April 2015.  That is when enforcement of the ObamaCare’s mandate penalty would go into effect.

Interestingly, lawyers on both sides urged the Supreme Court to take the case now, so the country could get a decision by this summer, and that appears to be the most likely outcome on the Anti-Injunction Act question.  None of the justices seem interested in delaying the individual mandate issue until 2015.

On the substance of the case, it is becoming increasingly clear that the legal challenge against ObamaCare is not about how Americans get health care, but about personal freedom and whether there are any longer any limits on Congress’ authority over citizens.

Mandate supporters say Congress is merely building on past interstate commerce case law to regulate the health care market, some 18% of the nation’s economy.  In the past, the Supreme Court has approved a vast expansion of Congressional power to control Americans’ economic decisions, especially since the New Deal laws of the 1930s.

While the Court has already decided Congress has the power to block people from engaging in interstate commerce (the federal ban on marijuana sales, for example), the health care mandate would for the first time force Americans to do something -- buy an insurance policy -- they might not do voluntarily.

That has become the central question.  If the Supreme Court upholds the individual mandate, there would appear to be no limit on what Congress could require people to do.  Even mandate supporters have been unable to describe any “limiting principle” that would apply to Congress.  The logic of this result raises a disturbing thought: After 240 years of constitutional freedom, will Americans, at last, lose the right to be left alone by their government?  We’ll know the answer when the Supreme Court hands down its ruling this summer.

You can listen to audio of today's proceedings below.