Today is a good day for liberty. By striking down the unprecedented requirement that Americans buy health insurance — the “individual mandate” — Judge Henry Hudson vindicated the idea that ours is a government of delegated and enumerated, and thus limited, powers.
But this should not be surprising, for the Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to force private commercial transactions.
Even if the Supreme Court has broadened the scope of Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause — it can now reach local activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce — never before has it allowed people to face a civil penalty for declining to buy a particular product. Hudson found therefore that the individual mandate “is neither within the letter nor the spirit of the Constitution.”
[T]he Constitution does not grant the federal government the power to force private commercial transactions.
Stated another way, every exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce has involved some form of action or transaction engaged in by an individual or legal entity. The government’s theory — that the decision not to buy insurance is an economic one that affects interstate commerce in various ways — would, for the first time ever, permit laws commanding people to engage in economic activity.
Under such a reading, which judges in two other cases have unfortunately adopted, nobody would ever be able to plausibly claim that the Constitution limits congressional power. The federal government would then have wide authority to require that Americans engage in activities ranging from eating spinach and joining gyms (in the health care realm) to buying GM cars. Congress could tell people what to study or what job to take: We need fewer lawyers and more engineers, right?
As Hudson put it, “This broad definition of the economic activity subject to congressional regulation lacks logical limitation and is unsupported by Commerce Clause jurisprudence.”
I glad to see that there are at least some limits.