The Supreme Court is expected to announce its long-awaited decision on President Obama's Affordable Care Act next week. As the landmark decision approaches, Randy Barnett delves into the justices' legal minds and explores the different arguments currently being presented. Barnett is a lawyer at the National Federation of Independent Business and a professor of constitutional law at the Georgetown University Law Centre.
At the center of the debate on the Affordable Care Act is the Commerce Clause, an enumerated power at Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution. When the Act was passed, Congress decided to require Americans to buy insurance, justifying the order by citing Congress' authority to regulate commerce. The move contrasts with programs like Social Security, which rely on increased taxes to pay for expenses.
"That's something that they've never tried to do before," Barnett says. "They justified it under their commerce power, and now the Court has to decide whether this new exercise of the commerce power is something that ought to be permitted or not." The individual mandate has been the most controversial piece of the legislation during the oral arguments before the Supreme Court. The bill's supporters argue that if people are not mandated to buy insurance, the costs from their inevitable health expenses will be forwarded to Americans who do hold policies. Challengers of the bill counter that requiring Americans to make a purchase would be an unprecedented and unconstitutional move.
"What this case is going to be about is whether there are judicially enforceable limits on Congress' powers under Article I, which limits what Congress can do, or is Congress the sole judge of the scope of its own powers," Barnett says.
"That will be a really big deal if the court finds for the first time ever that there are no judicially enforceable limits on the power of Congress."