Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Obamacare" and the Commerce Clause

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of “Obamacare”, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Should this Act be found constitutional, it would require all Americans to purchase health insurance. While many issues have been discussed regarding this Act, the Supreme Court will be looking at an issue that will surely affect more than just the constitutionality of “Obamacare”: whether the Commerce Clause provides the authority to mandate that all citizens purchase insurance.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution provides Congress the power "to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among several States, and with the Indian Tribes." According to the Christian Science Monitor, the real question for the Court to decide is whether choosing not to buy healthcare is an activity able to be regulated under the Commerce Clause.

The Monitor’s article, while having an obvious slant against “Obamacare”, does raise the important and relevant issue of the balance of the enumerated powers of the government against individual freedom; the more expanded the interpretation of these enumerated powers becomes, the stronger it can be argued that the government is infringing upon individual freedoms. This seems especially true in this case where the government is not forbidding an action while leaving multiple options open for individual choice, but instead is requiring action without leaving alternative options open.

As argued in the Monitor’s article, “If government goes from only regulating activity to also regulating inactivity, it will effectively go from telling individuals what they cannot do to telling them what to do.” By disallowing an individual from abstaining in purchasing life insurance, the government requires the individual to act in a way that reduces their individual freedom to choose.

No matter how one feels about “Obamacare”, the Supreme Court’s decision could possible expand the scope of the Commerce Clause. Although the Commerce Clause in the past has not been applied to inactivity, the Supreme Court now has the opportunity to settle this issue. If the Commerce Clause is expanded to cover the area of inactivity, it surely seems that the government’s power will be expanded at the cost of individual freedom.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Fallout from the Penn State Scandal

This past Saturday,Jerry Sandusky, former Penn State Assistant Coach, was arrested on forty (40) criminal counts. At the time of his arrest, there were eight (8) known underage victims, with a possible ninth coming forth this past Tuesday. The alleged incidents are spelled forth in the Grand Jury’s Findings of Fact. In the aftermath of the arrest, Penn State has fired its President Graham Spanier and their Head Football Coach Joe Paterno, although the Pennsylvania Attorney General has indicated that Joe Paterno is not subject to the investigation.

According to the indictment, Mr. Sandusky had been sexually molesting young boys whom he came in contact with through a program he started called “The Second Mile”, a program dedicated to helping troubled boys. While this program was started in 1977, the first alleged contact did not occur until 1994. It was not until 1998 at the first suspicions of this illicit contact come forth, and it was not until 2002 that Joe Paterno is informed of such contact. Even after these suspicions and reports, the Pennsylvania Attorney General does not commence an investigation until early 2009. Although Mr. Sandusky retired from coaching in 1999, up until his arrest he maintained emeritus status which allowed him access to the locker rooms. An entire time line of events can be found here courtesy of The Huffington Post.

I think, and would hope, that all would agree that what Mr. Sandusky has allegedly done is completely improper. It is also fairly obvious from reading the reports and the Findings of Fact that Penn State acted improperly in failing to conduct proper investigations; as such, there does not seem to be uproar about the firing of Graham Spanier. However, the firing of Joe Paterno perhaps falls into a more gray area.
After the arrest, Coach Paterno indicated that he would retire after this season. However, the University’s Board of Trustees decided to end his coaching tenure Wednesday. In response to this, more than 1,000 students protested around the Penn State Campus. In their protest the students actually overturned a media van and damaged other property.

Students were quoted as saying things such as, “From a student's perspective, it's like where do we go from here? We no longer have a president. We no longer have a 45-year legacy,” and "I think it's only fair to let him (Paterno) ride out the season because this is the house that Joe built." (Both quotes from the Cleveland Plain Dealer.) From these quotes, it is obvious that the students were concentrating more on their history than on the current events.

Of all that has come out of this series of events, it is to me this protest that seems the most questionable. As stated, it is obvious that Mr. Sandusky’s alleged actions and Penn State’s handling of the situation were improper. The firing of Coach Paterno is understandable, but whether one agrees with it or not, the proper response is not the destruction of private property. Even more disturbing is the valuation by students of football over the handling of the deplorable events giving rise to Paterno’s firing, based on the fact that Coach Paterno is a “legend” and “celebrity”. Merely being a highly successful college football coach does not excuse Paterno from the scrutiny and discipline of a “normal” coach.