Follow up to: Why The ObamaCare Mandate Isn’t Infringing Your Freedoms
A fair amount of time ago, back on June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court handed down their official 5-4 decision that ObamaCare, more formally known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, is constitutional. While some may disagree with this decision, I want to give a summary of the decision they made to help you understand the reasoning and the relevant Constitutional Law.
This essay will lay the background of the Supreme Court case, by discussing how the constitutional issue was treated in the lower court cases, and how the issues led up to the Supreme Court. The next essay will actually begin to look at the issues in depth.
A Flurry of Cases: Some Background
So what’s the big deal? Well, it all started once ObamaCare was passed into law by Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Once effective as legislation, a wide variety of people thought the bill was unconstitutional, perhaps blatantly so. Some argued that the “individual mandate” which requires those to buy health insurance or pay a tax/penalty/fine was seen as infringing freedom and representing an overstep of Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, since the lack of buying health insurance was considered economic inactivity, which cannot be regulated. Others argued that creating a federal Health insurance program and massive Medicaid expansion was a violation of state sovereignty.
After all was said and done, the Attorney Generals of over 28 different US states decided to sue the Federal Government, specifically the US Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with implementing the law. Since many of these states are in separate court districts, there ended up being multiple different cases challenging Obamacare:
Florida v. the United States Department of Health and Human Services
The state of Florida sued, being joined by 26 other states. Their combined case was heard by district court Judge Robert Vinson. He found that the individual mandate was unconstitutional (inappropriately regulating economic inactivity) and moreover there was no way Obamacare could survive as a legislation without the individual mandate (the mandate is not severable).
This case then went to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed in a 2-1 decision that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, but thought that it was severable, so the rest of ObamaCare could continue.
This was appealed again, going to the Supreme Court…
Virginia v. Sebelius
The state of Virgina for some reason decided not to join the other 27 states in their suit, and instead decided to sue Kathleen Sebelius, the director of the Departnement of Health, directly. Judge Henry Hudson ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional but severable (same decision as the 11th Circuit).
This was then appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which did not rule on whether Obamacare was constitutional or not, but decided to reverse the case (and stop Virgina’s challenge to the law) on the basis that Virgina, as a state, did not have the authority to nullify the law as they had planned on doing, and thus the lawsuit could not continue.
This was appealed to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court decided not to hear this case.
Seven-Sky v. Holder
Four private taxpaying citizens decided to sue the United States Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking injunctive relief (a court decision to block something from happening) to stop the individual mandate from going into place. In this case, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the individual mandate to be constitutional, deciding 2-1 that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, as Congress did have the power under the commerce clause to regulate economic inactivity.
Liberty University v. Geithner
Liberty University and five other individuals decided to also challenge the individual mandate. District Court Judge Norman Koon found the individual mandate unconstitutional, arguing that Congress could not regulate economic inactivity.
This case was appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, but was denied because under the Anti-Injunction Act, which states that no one can sue for a tax until the tax is collected, and thus this case could not be heard until 2014.
Mead v. Holder
Not to be repetitive, but five more individuals decided to sue Attorney General Eric Holder, arguing… what a surprise… that the individual mandate is unconstitutional. However, this time, district court Judge Gladys Kessler decided that the ObamaCare individual mandate was constitutional under the Commerce Clause, because it seeks to solve a free-rider problem. This case was not appealed.
Thomas More Law Center v. Obama
Blah blah blah more people sued, arguing the individual mandate was unconstitutional. Fast forward, District Court Judge Georgh Steeh ruled that the individual mandate was constitutional, citing that Congress did have the power to regulate this as it affected interstate commerce and was part of a broader regulatory scheme.
This was appealed to the Sixth Circuit Court, which agreed 2-1 with the lower court’s decision.
Setting the Supreme Court Scene
So, for those keeping score at home, that’s two district courts and one Court of Appeals in favor of the constitutionality of ObamaCare, and three district courts and two court of Appeals deciding unconstitutionality. Needless to say, the law was still in contention, and given that it was country-wide in scope, the Supreme Court decided to hear the case, ending up with National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.
The issues were fairly clear and many. There first was a question, as in Liberty University v. Geithner, whether the Anti-Injunction Act demands that this case be dismissed and not decided until after the individual mandate is put in place, in 2014.
Then, if the individual mandate can be argued, there is the problem of whether the individual mandate is actually constitutional — whether by the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, or under Congress’s power to tax.
If it turns out the individual mandate is unconstitutional, there is a separate issue about what should be done with the rest of ObamaCare. If the individual mandate turns out to be severable, the rest of the act goes into place without an individual mandate. If it is deemed not severable, the entire act is considered unconstitutional and does not go into place.
Lastly, the Supreme Court decided to hear an issue about the Medicaid expansion in ObamaCare, which requires states to comply with the act in expanding and restructuring their state Medicaid programs, or face losing all their Medicaid funding.
In the next part of this essay, we’ll begin to look at these issues.
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