Californians have recently voted to enact laws banning the sale and production of both eggs from cruelly housed hens and foie gras, a delicacy created by force-feeding ducks. While this may seem within the legal bounds of a state’s ability to regulate local commerce, one Congressman is up in arms about it: Steve King (R, IA). King, despite being one of the most outspoken proponents of states’ rights in Congress, is so convinced that California’s laws violate the Commerce Clause that he pushed through legislation overturning the animal rights acts and similar statutes in other states:
Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican who represents the country’s leading egg-producing state, said he introduced the amendment because the California law and others like it “scrambles and creates a patchwork quilt of state regulations.”
“If California wants to regulate eggs that come into the state, fine,” King said. “But don’t be telling the states that are producing a product that’s already approved by the USDA or the FDA how to produce that product.”
He said that the California requirement violates the commerce clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interstate commerce issues.
King believes the entire Affordable Care Act – not simply the mandate, but the whole law – is an unconstitutional use of federal power under the Commerce Clause. This means that, according to King, any federal regulation of the insurance industry is unconstitutional. King also thinks states can ban contraception. These radical beliefs aren’t a surprise: King adheres to an extreme interpretation of the Tenth Amendment which aims to gut federal power.
So King appears to to think federal regulation of farming is constitutional, but regulation of the health care industry is not. A state ban on birth control is fine, but banning foie gras isn’t.
Of course, King has a perfectly good reason for going against his principles: saving his own skin. King is in the midst of a bruising reelection battle as a consequence of redistricting. The largest industry spending on his behalf is big agribusiness, which isn’t thrilled about California’s laws. King’s home state of Iowa has no standards for ethical caging of egg-producing hens, a fact which was linked to a significant salmonella outbreak in 2010.
King’s bill is so broadly worded that it might also overturn state safety standards for other agricultural products, including fruit, milk, and vegetables. It is currently attached as an amendment to the House Farm Bill, which would also take food stamps away from millions of needy Americans.
By: Zack Beauchamp, Think Progress, July 14, 2012
Predictions are always hazardous when it comes to the economy, the weather, and the Supreme Court. I won’t get near the first two right now, but I’ll hazard a guess on what the Court is likely to decide tomorrow: It will uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) by a vote of 6 to 3.
Three reasons for my confidence:
First, Chief Justice John Roberts is — or should be — concerned about the steadily-declining standing of the Court in the public’s mind, along with the growing perception that the justices decide according to partisan politics rather than according to legal principle. The 5-4 decision in Citizen’s United, for example, looked to all the world like a political rather than a legal outcome, with all five Republican appointees finding that restrictions on independent corporate expenditures violate the First Amendment, and all four Democratic appointees finding that such restrictions are reasonably necessary to avoid corruption or the appearance of corruption. Or consider the Court’s notorious decision in Bush v. Gore.
The Supreme Court can’t afford to lose public trust. It has no ability to impose its will on the other two branches of government: As Alexander Hamilton once noted, the Court has neither the purse (it can’t threaten to withhold funding from the other branches) or the sword (it can’t threaten police or military action). It has only the public’s trust in the Court’s own integrity and the logic of its decisions — both of which the public is now doubting, according to polls. As Chief Justice, Roberts has a particular responsibility to regain the public’s trust. Another 5-4 decision overturning a piece of legislation as important as Obamacare would further erode that trust.
It doesn’t matter that a significant portion of the public may not like Obamacare. The issue here is the role and institutional integrity of the Supreme Court, not the popularity of a particular piece of legislation. Indeed, what better way to show the Court’s impartiality than to affirm the constitutionality of legislation that may be unpopular but is within the authority of the other two branches to enact?
Second, Roberts can draw on a decision by a Republican-appointed and highly-respected conservative jurist, Judge Laurence Silberman, who found Obamacare to be constitutional when the issue came to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The judge’s logic was lucid and impeccable — so much so that Roberts will try to lure Justice Anthony Kennedy with it, to join Roberts and the four liberal justices, so that rather than another 5-4 split (this time on the side of the Democrats), the vote will be 6 to 3.
Third and finally, Roberts (and Kennedy) can find adequate Supreme Court precedent for the view that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution gives Congress and the President the power to regulate health care — given that heath-care coverage (or lack of coverage) in one state so obviously affects other states; that the market for health insurance is already national in many respects; and that other national laws governing insurance (Social Security and Medicare, for example) require virtually everyone to pay (in these cases, through mandatory contributions to the Social Security and Medicare trust funds).
Okay, so I’ve stuck my neck out. We’ll find out tomorrow how far.
By: Robert Reich, Robert Reich Blog, June 27, 2012
Eric Spiegelman has an interesting post on how the legal establishment got the individual mandate so wrong. In it, he writes:
How far can the definition of Congress’ enumerated powers be stretched? As Justice Scalia asked during oral arguments: if Congress can force you to buy health insurance, can they also force you to buy broccoli? The question I like to ask is: what if Congress forced you to buy a gun?
But Congress has forced Americans to buy guns. It’s in the Militia Acts of 1792. The relevant section is a bit lengthy, so I’ve bolded the key parts:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective states, resident therein, who is or shall be of the age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia by the captain or commanding officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this act. And it shall at all times hereafter be the duty of every such captain or commanding officer of a company to enrol every such citizen, as aforesaid, and also those who shall, from time to time, arrive at the age of eighteen years, or being of the age of eighteen years and under the age of forty-five years (except as before excepted) shall come to reside within his bounds; and shall without delay notify such citizen of the said enrolment, by a proper non-commissioned officer of the company, by whom such notice may be proved. That every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball: or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack.
Now, you could argue that this was not done under the Commerce Clause. But as Yale’s Akhil Reid Amar says, “the law shows that George Washington, who signed the law, thought that purchase-mandates were not intrinsically improper. If Congress can regulate a ‘well-regulated’ militia with a mandate, why can’t Congress regulate interstate commerce the same way?”
Incidentally, that’s not the only time an early congress mandated that Americans purchase privately sold products:
In 1790, the very first Congress—which incidentally included 20 framers—passed a law that included a mandate: namely, a requirement that ship owners buy medical insurance for their seamen. This law was then signed by another framer: President George Washington. That’s right, the father of our country had no difficulty imposing a health insurance mandate.[...]
Six years later, in 1798, Congress addressed the problem that the employer mandate to buy medical insurance for seamen covered drugs and physician services but not hospital stays. And you know what this Congress, with five framers serving in it, did? It enacted a federal law requiring the seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves. That’s right, Congress enacted an individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. And this act was signed by another founder, President John Adams.
That’s from Einer Elhauge, a professor at Harvard Law, who continues, “not only did most framers support these federal mandates to buy firearms and health insurance, but there is no evidence that any of the few framers who voted against these mandates ever objected on constitutional grounds. Presumably one would have done so if there was some unstated original understanding that such federal mandates were unconstitutional.”
Also of note: unlike the mandate to buy muskets, the maritime mandates were exercised under the Commerce Clause.
By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post Wonkblog, June 26, 2012
The Supreme Court’s highly anticipated ruling on Obama’s healthcare reforms could come any day now. Whatever the verdict, expect much ado about the hotly debated role of broccoli in healthcare and arcane explanations of the Commerce Clause that is at the center of the legal case against the individual mandate. But buried deep in hearings filled with legalese and judicial sparring was a short exchange that illuminates an American ideal that truly hangs in the balance with this decision—the idea that in a civilized society, we do not sit idly by and watch our neighbors die.
The specific back-and-forth in question occurred on the third day of the hearings between Justice Antonin Scalia and Solicitor General Donald Verilli, the administration official charged with defending the law in court. It went like this:
GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It’s because you’re going—in the health care market, you’re going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow—that—to which we’ve obligated ourselves so that people get health care.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don’t obligate yourself to that. Why—you know?
GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, I can’t imagine that that—that the Commerce Clause would —would forbid Congress from taking into account this deeply embedded social norm.
JUSTICE SCALIA: You—you could do it.
If you are not a frequent watcher of the Court and therefore not fluent in the cadences of judicial banter, this short, seemingly banal interchange in an exhaustive debate may not have even registered. The “deeply embedded social norm” that Verilli refers to—in fact seems confused that he has to explain to Justice Scalia—is the norm that dictates that people will step in to aid others who are ailing or in danger of death.
Scalia’s statement that “you could do it [defy these norms]” eerily evoked the appalling moment at the September 2011 Republican presidential debate when the audience wildly applauded Wolf Blitzer’s stunned probing of whether candidate Ron Paul would allow a 30-year-old uninsured man in a healthcare emergency to die. “Yes!” shouted unashamed audience members, turning a presidential debate into something reminiscent of the Roman Colosseum. When Justice Scalia argued against the social norms that Verilli was presuming sacrosanct, he was essentially saying, “Let him die!”
While we’ve grown to expect this kind of mob mentality from a radical right wing whipped up in a Tea Party frenzy, this bizarre display of indifference from a Supreme Court Justice breaks new ground in an evolving culture that seems to prize resistance to any and all government over the compassion that is the essence of civilized society. The right screams often and loudly that President Obama has declared war on the Judeo-Christian underpinnings they hold as American as apple pie. But in fact, it is Justice Scalia, from his exalted perch, who appears intent on vacating the Golden Rule and undermining the parable of the Good Samaritan, both core to Christian theology.
Scalia doesn’t come into oral argument all secretive and sphinxlike, feigning indecision on the nuances of the case before him. He comes in like a medieval knight, girded for battle. He knows what the law is. He knows what the opinion should say. And he uses the hour allocated for argument to bludgeon his brethren into agreement.
Scalia, ever the showman, joked during the March hearings that having to read the entire healthcare law in order to rule on it would amount to cruel and unusual punishment, prohibited by the Constitution. At the same time, he displayed an egregious ignorance regarding which provisions in the bill actually passed. And on the final morning of arguments, Scalia laid his cards on the table when he argued that stripping out the individual mandate would cause the whole law to topple.
The mandate, more descriptively titled the “free-rider clause,” fines uninsured individuals who expect taxpayer-supported emergency services to cover calamities that befall them. It is also the component of the reform that allows insurance companies to affordably cover those with pre-existing conditions. Cutting the mandate, Scalia mused, cuts the heart out of the entire reform and would almost certainly kick the whole matter back to a gridlocked Congress, while millions of lives hang in the balance.
A recent Pew poll shows that approximately 83 percent of Americans are affiliated with an organized faith, be it a form of Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism or Buddhism. A whopping 78.4 percent of us fall somewhere in the Christian camp. Yet, it is core Christian values that are currently on trial at the Supreme Court.
Perhaps this emotional dissonance is what drives a new poll from the New York Times that shows that only 44 percent of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing. Once a venerated institution that seemed immune to the partisan squabbles of the other branches of government, the Court has consistently displayed its corporate and right-wing allegiances in decisions that span from 2000′s Bush v Gore when it picked our president and irrevocably altered the course of history (Scalia later told Americans to “get over it!” when asked about the decision) to the 2009 Citizens United decision, the impact of which is being felt acutely this election season. Now, 75 percent of Americans say that the Justices’ political preferences motivate their decision making on the bench.
When healthcare reform passed in 2010, the United States ranked dead last among similar countries in a study comparing cost and quality of healthcare. America consistently spends twice as much for lesser care than its industrialized allies. While the Affordable Care Act left some of the best solutions on the table, it offers real hope to the one in four American adults that go without healthcare each year due to job transitions or other circumstances. So many of our neighbors live in terror that a single unexpected calamity will drive their family into bankruptcy spurred by emergency medical bills. Now, when the verdict comes in, those fellow Americans can add a new fear to their list: that a Conservative Catholic Supreme Court Justice will lead the charge to let them die.
By: Ilyse Hogue, The Nation, June 18, 2012
Yesterday, Ben Smith quoted a conservative lawyer offering a way the Supreme Court’s conservative majority may think about striking down the Affordable Care Act. Essentially, this lawyer said, they think that the last 70 years of the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution’s commerce clause, which underlies much of what the modern American government does, is a giant fraud perpetrated by liberals. Even though they know they can’t toss out that last 70 years all at once, they have no problem finding some ridiculous justification for striking down the ACA, no matter whether they really believe it or not. “You have built a fantasy mansion on the Commerce Clause,” the lawyer tells Smith. “You can hardly blame us if, in one wing of this mansion, down a dusty corridor, we build a fantasy room called ‘inactivity,’ lock the door, and don’t let you in.” None of us have any way of knowing if this is what the justices are actually thinking, persuasive as it sounds. But there’s something going on among liberal commentators, both those who think the Court will strike down the ACA and those who think they might uphold it, to try to look through the oral arguments in the case and in recent decisions to determine, not necessarily the outcome of the decision, but the reasoning that might accompany it. This, I fear, is fruitless.
I’ll get to why in a second, but here are a couple of good examples just from yesterday. At TPM, Sahil Kapur looks at Justice Roberts’ concurrence in a recent case to suggest that he may be particularly sensitive to preserving the Court’s integrity and reputation, which could lead him to be reluctant to take such a partisan action as overturning the signature legislation of a president from the other party. Jonathan Bernstein, in a post not far from the position I’m taking, says, “The core problem here is that those who want a pre-New Deal reading of the Commerce Clause and the rest of the Constitution want to impose something that, in practical terms, would be highly unpopular, affecting laws such as the minimum wage. There’s really no easy way to do what conservative judicial activists want to do. And that leaves them with options that are going to look, to most people, very arbitrary.” But I really don’t think they care.
If the Court’s conservatives do strike down the ACA, the reasoning they’ll use to do so is irrelevant. That’s the whole point of having a Court like this one: it’s all about the outcome. Let’s recall the most revealing line in the Bush v. Gore decision: “Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.” In other words, don’t even think about ever trying to use this case as precedent for anything, because we don’t even believe what we’re saying. And the Roberts Court is even more conservative and partisan than the Court that decided Bush v. Gore was. William Rehnquist was replaced by Roberts (not much difference there), and the centrist Sandra Day O’Connor was replaced by the hard-right Samuel Alito. They would be more than happy to hang their invalidation of the ACA on the novel “inactivity” justification, then never consider the rationale again. Imagine there was some future piece of conservative legislation passed by a Republican president and Congress that regulated “inactivity” in some similar way, and liberals sued to overturn it. Is there anyone of any ideology who actually believes the conservatives on this Court would say, “Well, we’ll have to be consistent about this”? Of course they wouldn’t. The outcome is the only thing that matters.
So it isn’t that they’ll build a room called “inactivity” down that dusty corridor and lock the door. It would be more accurate to say that they’ll grab the nearest unlabeled closet and cram the ACA inside, leaving no room for anything else before they shove the door closed and break off the key in the lock. Then they’ll never look at the closet again, unless it serves the purpose of striking down more progressive legislation.
By: Paul Waldman, The American Prospect, April 9, 2012