June 29, 2012
Interestingly, the four dissenters did not claim that imposing such a tax on the failure to purchase health insurance would be unconstitutional. Instead they relied on the constitutional significance of Congress calling the fee a penalty, not a tax. Justice Roberts insisted that this Congressional label was not relevant in assessing the provision’s constitutionality. In a twist, however, Justice Roberts held that the congressional label was determinative in deciding whether the Anti-Injunction Act—a statute which bars lawsuits challenging taxes before the time for their collection—applied, a holding with which the four dissenters agreed. So, the Court decided that even though the provision is a tax for interpreting the Constitution, it is not a tax for interpreting the Anti-Injunction statute. Around Congress, it has often been said about taxes that “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” Today, poultry just became far easier to identify than a “tax.”
Plus this from Joe Kristan:
Maybe the most depressing aspect of the decision is the way it seems to endorse using the tax law as the Swiss Army Knife of public policy. Things that Congress can’t enact any other way are now possible if they can somehow be crammed into the tax law. The tax code is already groaning under its load of responsibilities for industrial policy, health policy, welfare policy and housing policy, for starters. The IRS Commissioner is now sort of a super cabinet member with a portfolio that dwarfs most of the “real” cabinet departments. Of course, the IRS is ill-suited to this role, resulting in poor policy administration and poor tax administration. Thanks, Justice Roberts!
More commentary at the link.