It upheld the principle that despite Obama’s ongoing claim to the contrary, Congress has no power under the commerce clause to force Americans to buy a product or service of the federal government’s choosing. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking for the Court, writes,
The Constitution grants Congress the power to “regulate Commerce.” The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated….
The individual mandate, however, does not regulate existing commercial activity. It instead compels individuals to become active in commerce by purchasing a product, on the ground that their failure to do so affects interstate commerce. Construing the Commerce Clause to permit Congress to regulate individuals precisely because they are doing nothing would open a new and potentially vast domain to congressional authority.
Chief Justice Roberts adds, “The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years both our decisions and Congress’s actions have reflected this understanding. There is no reason to depart from that understanding now” — even though “[t]he Government [the Obama administration] sees things differently.”
The Framers knew the difference between doing something and doing nothing. They gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it….
The individual mandate forces individuals into commerce precisely because they elected to refrain from commercial activity. Such a law cannot be sustained under a clause authorizing Congress to “regulate Commerce.”
Thus, the chief justices writes, Congress only has the power to impose the individual mandate because — contrary to what Obama has repeatedly claimed — the individual mandate is a tax:
The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness.
As this passage suggests, one might also add this: The Court upheld the principle that, when it comes to matters of policy, the American people should decide. Accordingly, if this election was ever primarily about the economy (a doubtful notion), it is no more. It’s now about Obamacare.
Thumbnail image and illustration courtesy shutterstock / dubassy