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.

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