If you had told me before the day started that John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy would have penned differing opinions on the Obamacare case, and that I’d be siding with the latter’s opinion, I would have said that you were nuts. Alas, it appears that John Roberts is the new Anthony Kennedy.
Ed Whelan has speculated that Chief Justice Roberts changed his vote at the last minute, and therefore the dissenting opinion was originally the majority opinion. He has a follow-up post that posits another theory supporting that notion, which also explains how that could be logistically possible. Having now fully digested the dissenting opinion, I am just about 99 percent certain that John Roberts did indeed change his vote, and that the dissenting opinion was the majority opinion until the Chief Justice changed his mind.
Frankly, the dissent just doesn’t read like a dissent at all. As Whelan points out, the dissenting opinion repeatedly alludes to Justice Ginsburg’s opinion as the dissent. In fact, the dissenters barely alludes to the Chief Justice’s opinion at all until the very end. The final couple of pages are a scathing attack on the majority’s opinion, heretofore unmentioned. It certainly seems like the dissenting Justices felt jilted by the Chief Justice, thus the unusually harsh rhetoric of the final few paragraphs of the dissent. Another sign that the dissenters were in the majority comes on the second page: Continue reading
Conservatives looking for some kind of victory in today’s decision in National Federation of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. (the Obamacare case) are pointing to two aspects of Chief Justice John Roberts’s rulings. First, a majority of the Court ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional under the commerce clause. Second, the Court ruled that the Federal Government could not force the states to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Therefore, the Court narrowed the scope of Congressional power in two different arenas.
Indeed, 44 pages of Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion are absolutely constitutionally sound. During the course of the opinion the Chief Justice made the same argument that many individual mandate opponents have been making for months: you cannot create an economic activity in order to regulate it under the commerce clause. “The power to regulate commerce presupposes the existence of commercial activity to be regulated. If the power to ‘regulate’ something included the power to create it, many of the provisions in the Constitution would be superfluous.” The Chief Justice latter adds that the individual mandate “does not regulate an 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.” Furthermore, “[a]llowing Congress to justify federal regulation by pointing to the effect of inaction on commerce would bring countless decisions an individual could potentially make within the scope of federal regulation, and – under the Government’s theory – empower Congress to make those decisions for him.”
Roberts further tears into the logic of those defending the mandate on commerce clause grounds by pointing out that other activity – such as people not eating a healthy diet – does far more to raise health care costs than does failure to have health insurance. Therefore, under the government’s logic, “Congress could address the diet problem by ordering everyone to buy vegetables.” Therefore, the government’s arguments with regards to the commerce clause are ultimately unsupportable.
The problem with those taking the rosy view; however, is that the Chief Justice’s opinion is 59 pages. The Chief takes a detour roughly halfway through the opinion that is so unfathomable, it almost reads as if an entirely different person wrote the opinion.
Chief Justice Roberts holds that despite the statutory language, the penalty for failure to buy health insurance can more accurately described as a tax. This, despite what the language of the bill actually says, and what President Obama himself even said. And that’s also in contradiction of what had just been argued when discussing the anti-Injunction act. As Carrie Severino puts it:
The main holding of the case is that the mandate is upheld as a proper exercise of the taxing power. This is a decidedly awkward result, as the first section of the result explains that the mandate is not a tax for the purposes of the Anti-Injunction Act. During the oral argument the courtroom erupted in laughter when the solicitor general was asked how he could argue that the mandate was not a tax on Monday but was on Tuesday. In the end, the court chose that implausible — even laughable — result in a fairly explicit attempt to hold the mandate constitutional.
Jeff Goldstein also mocks this bit of legal jujitsu. Intentionalism is a concept that he blogs about frequently, and he rightfully calls out the Chief Justice for his violation of the concept.
According to the CJ, a penalty is indeed a tax when it can be viewed as a tax for purposes of a ruling. Meaning, a penalty is a tax when a Justice decides to rewrite the law to turn a penalty into a tax. Which he justifies because the way the penalty looks to him suggests that “reasonable” people (or philosopher kings) can, if they squint — and if they ignore the intent that turned the law into law in the first place, and turned a set of marks into a set of signs, into language — see a tax. How that is “reasonable” is anyone’s guess: we know in no uncertain terms that Obama and the Dems who passed the law didn’t devise the mandate as a tax (despite what they later argued); for one to conclude that it is reasonably possible to “read” a penalty as a tax, therefore, what c0mes to count as “reasonable” must be redefined as “ignoring what we know to be true”. And that seems antithetical to “reason.”
Roberts has chosen to see a tax where a penalty was intended — thereby rewriting the law and turning it into a new text, one which he intends, though he incoherently and disingenuously suggests that he is finding meaning in the text that can “reasonably” be ascribed to it.
Roberts justifies this change in terminology by noting that the amount of the penalty that would be levied would not be punitive – in fact the cost of paying the penalty would often be less than the cost of buying health insurance. And since the so-called penalty would not be burdensome, it’s not really penalizing behavior.
But the most egregious aspect of this decision, and one which an astounding number of commentators seem to be missing, is that the Chief Justice has massively expanded the use of the taxing power. Roberts asserts that “taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new.” He then rattles off a list of things that are taxed heavily in order to change behavior, including cigarettes. The problem with this is that people have to buy cigarettes in order to be taxed. This “tax” is applied to people who don’t make a purchase. In other words, the federal government is taxing non-activity. It is the same exact logic that the government used to justify the mandate under the commerce clause. All Roberts has done is shift the authority under the Constitution which justifies government intervention.
Then Roberts makes the astounding claim, also amazingly echoed approvingly in certain quarters, that “While the individual mandate clearly aims to induce the purchase of health insurance, it need not be read to declare that failing to do so is unlawful. Neither the Act nor any other law attaches negative legal consequences to not buying health insurance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS.” (emphasis mine)
I’m actually embarrassed for the Chief Justice here. Surely he is not as incapable of making a logical progression as this statement suggests he is. But let’s make this crystal clear. If you do not purchase health insurance, you will be penalized, err, “taxed.” If you fail to pay that tax at the end of the year, what do you suppose happens to you? Does the IRS send you a series of letters pleading with you to “please, pretty please, with a cherry on top, please pay your tax?” Do they put little frowny faces at the bottom of these letters? Does the Commissioner of the IRS stand outside your window with a boom box blaring “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel, the rain pelting him as he cries out “Please, just pay this tax which, by the way, should in no way be construed as a penalty?”
Oh, that’s right, you go to jail. So you totally have the right to not buy health insurance, and there’s absolutely no punishment for failure to pay the tax. This assumes, of course, you always wanted to share a very small space with a drug dealer named Zeke. Just think of this as a government-funded vacation where you may, or may not, have discomfort walking towards the end of the vacation. You see – what a bargain!
The Chief Justice makes several more spurious claims. He notes that “tax incentives already promote, for example, purchasing homes and professional education.” But tax incentives are reductions in the level of taxation for making certain purchases. Your taxes are not increased when you decide to rent a house instead of purchase one.
Roberts observes that the “Constitution does not guarantee that individuals may avoid taxation through inactivity. A capitation, after all, is a tax that everyone must pay simply for existing, and capitations are expressly contemplated in the Constitution.” Really? The income tax was made allowable only through the 16th Amendment, but it’s not a tax merely for existing. It’s a tax that only applies if you earn money – in other words, it’s a tax that applies only when you engage in the activity of earning your daily bread. It’s not a “mere existence” tax, and it’s certainly not a taxation of non-activity.
According to Article I of the Constitution, Congress has the ability to issue direct taxes apportioned among the several States, but the Chief Justice himself declares that this is not a direct tax.
Section 8 of Article I states:
Clause 1: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
Again, I fail to see how that justifies taxation of non-activity. The idea that this kind of tax would have been countenanced by the same people (by and large) who fought the War of Independence is laughable on its face.
Attempts to sugarcoat this opinion are wrongheaded. In many ways, Roberts’ basing his decision on the tax power is worse than if he had relied on the Commerce Clause, for he has actually expanded the reach of the federal government in a way heretofore unseen. It’s true that Roberts and the four dissenters limit the reach of the commerce clause, but in reality they haven’t done much more than what the Rehnquist Court did in the mid-90s in the Lopez and Morrison cases in limiting the scope of the Commerce Clause. No new ground has been broken, and no old precedents were over-ridden. Much the same can be said with respect to the Medicaid ruling. On the other hand, the Chief Justice has broadened the taxing power so that it can now be applied to non-activity. Long story short, the federal government has more power today than it did yesterday. That is the most chilling aspect of this decision.
I believe that the commenter cthemfly25 has it right in the comments on my previous post:
Congress can always use taxing authority to undermine the constitution. And if a tax can be used to undermine the constitution and modulate and control social behavior, then the all powerful central government can use its unmitigated taxing power to regulate religion (there is no way applying Roberts’ logic that the religious mandate could be struck down), regulate home schooling or private schooling (“taxed” for not teaching homosexual curriculum), regulate the size of families (taxed for having more than two kids), regulate food or beverage consumption (taxed based on calorie intake), regulate fuel consumption (“taxed” for excessive fuel consumption), regulate choice of consumer goods such as vehicles (“taxed” for not purchasing a “green” car),—–regulate from a central authority any human or civic activity under the rubric of “taxation”.
Perhaps the Anti-Federalist Brutus was right, after all, about the taxing power under the Constitution.
This power, exercised without limitation, will introduce itself into every comer of the city, and country — It will wait upon the ladies at their toilett, and will not leave them in any of their domestic concerns; it will accompany them to the ball, the play, and the assembly; it will go with them when they visit, and will, on all occasions, sit beside them in their carriages, nor will it desert them even at church; it will enter the house of every gentleman, watch over his cellar, wait upon his cook in the kitchen, follow the servants into the parlour, preside over the table, and note down all he eats or drinks; it will attend him to his bed-chamber, and watch him while he sleeps; it will take cognizance of the professional man in his office, or his study; it will watch the merchant in the counting-house, or in his store; it will follow the mechanic to his shop, and in his work, and will haunt him in his family, and in his bed; it will be a constant companion of the industrious farmer in all his labour, it will be with him in the house, and in the field, observe the toil of his hands, and the sweat of his brow; it will penetrate into the most obscure cottage; and finally, it will light upon the head of every person in the United States. To all these different classes of people, and in all these circumstances, in which it will attend them, the language in which it will address them, will be GIVE! GIVE!
When the decision of the Supreme Court is released tomorrow at 9:00 AM Central Time I will do my best to link to the decision and have some commentary, work permitting in the law mines. Now of course we can only guess what will happen. Few things are more futile than attempting to guess what a court will do, but it is fun! I share in the conventional wisdom that the Court will likely strike down the mandate but uphold the rest. From a political standpoint, although it would be a travesty under the Constitution, I would prefer that the Court uphold the whole thing, since I think it would ignite a firestorm among conservatives and lead to a devastating defeat for Obama in the fall. Well, we will see what happens tomorrow.
Ever since Congressman Paul Ryan announced his budget plan, claiming that it was inspired by his understanding of Catholic social teaching (CST) in general and subsidiarity in particular, old debates about the meaning of CST have flared up once again. Michael Sean Winters of NCR blasted Ryan’s conception of “subsidiarity”; then Stephen White of Catholic Vote critiqued some of Winter’s own oversimplifications. Since everyone and their aunt in the Catholic blogosphere will weigh in on this at some point, I’ll get it over with and throw in my two-cents now.
First: I do believe that some of Ryan’s statements are oversimplifications. For instance, he claimed that subsidiarity and federalism were more or less synonyms for one another. They are not. Stephen White pointed out that these concepts are complimentary, however, and they are.
Secondly: Winters, and he is not alone in this, repeats Vatican statements about “access” to health care as if they were an exact equivalent with Obamacare or other types of government-run healthcare schemes. As White pointed out, Winters presents his leftist policy preferences as non-negotiable points of CST.
Third: I think the entire framework of this discussion needs a serious overhaul.
Hattip to Allahpundit at Hot Air. Well, that didn’t take long. In response to Obama’s attempt yesterday to bully the Supreme Court in the ObamaCare case, here is what happened in a Fifth Circuit hearing today:
The panel is hearing a separate challenge to the health care law by physician-owned hospitals. The issue arose when a lawyer for the Justice Department began arguing before the judges. Appeals Court Judge Jerry Smith immediately interrupted, asking if DOJ agreed that the judiciary could strike down an unconstitutional law.
The DOJ lawyer, Dana Lydia Kaersvang, answered yes — and mentioned Marbury v. Madison, the landmark case that firmly established the principle of judicial review more than 200 years ago, according to the lawyer in the courtroom.
Smith then became “very stern,” the source said, telling the lawyers arguing the case it was not clear to “many of us” whether the president believes such a right exists. The other two judges on the panel, Emilio Garza and Leslie Southwick–both Republican appointees–remained silent, the source said.
Smith, a Reagan appointee, went on to say that comments from the president and others in the Executive Branch indicate they believe judges don’t have the power to review laws and strike those that are unconstitutional, specifically referencing Mr. Obama’s comments yesterday about judges being an “unelected group of people.” Continue reading
Obama gave us a preview today of the tactics he will use if the Supreme Court rules against ObamaCare.
In his first public comments about the case since the justices took it up last week, Mr. Obama appeared to be framing the political argument he would make should he have to face voters this fall after a loss at the high court.
“For years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or the lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law,” he said at a news conference. The health-care case is a good example of just that, he said. “And I’m pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.”
White House officials have said they were reluctant to appear to lobby the Supreme Court, which is partly why the president didn’t speak out on the case until after it was argued before the court last week. Continue reading
A very long day in the Supreme Court today with the severability argument this morning, and the expansion of medicaid under ObamaCare in the afternoon. Continue reading
There is some excitement that oral arguments are going well for opponents of Obamacare. Though oral arguments are not perfectly indicative of how the Supreme Court will vote in the end, there is some cause for guarded optimism. That being said, even if the Court completely strikes down Obamacare, it will be something of a hollow victory.
Don’t get me wrong. There is no other correct course of action for the Court to take than to strike down the individual mandate and thus effectively kill Obamacare. It is one of those remarkable monstrosities that happens to be both bad policy and unconstitutional. The problem is that something this monumental is essentially being decided on the whims of a single Justice. How did we reach the point where our basic liberties come down to what Anthony Kennedy may have had for breakfast one day?
I don’t mean to be flip, but it feels like we’ve taken a very wrong turn somewhere along the line. Continue reading
Day 2 of oral argument on ObamaCare. Go here to read the transcript. Go here to listen to an audio recording of the oral argument. Today’s argument focused on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the argument did not seem to observers to go well for the Obama administration. Jeffery Tobin, CNN’s legal analyst, put it succinctly:
“This was a train wreck for the Obama administration,” he said. “This law looks like it’s going to be struck down. I’m telling you, all of the predictions including mine that the justices would not have a problem with this law were wrong… if I had to bet today I would bet that this court is going to strike down the individual mandate.”
“I don’t know why he had a bad day,” he said. “He is a good lawyer, he was a perfectly fine lawyer in the really sort of tangential argument yesterday. He was not ready for the answers for the conservative justices.”
I would caution everyone from reading too much into the questions asked by the Justices on the first of three days of oral argument, but it was an interesting day of oral argument. Go here to read the transcript. Go here to listen to an audio recording of the oral argument. My thoughts on the first day I will post this evening. Continue reading
And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? If the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
First Kings 18:21
When the Supreme Court begins oral argument on ObamaCare on March 26, the White House is unveiling a new secret weapon: Prayer.
On Wednesday, White House officials summoned dozens of leaders of nonprofit organizations that strongly back the health law to help them coordinate plans for a prayer vigil, press conferences and other events outside the court when justices hear arguments for three days beginning March 26.
The acolytes of the South Side Messiah have long known that their strongest adversaries are among Christians who take their faith seriously. That is why they are promoting a de facto schism in the Catholic Church, and why they have attempted to promote Sandra Fluke, that summary of all that is wrong with Jesuit run Georgetown, as the White House sponsored symbol of an alternate magisterium for American Catholics. Religion in this country is to be transformed into a useful auxiliary for the President, spearheaded by astroturf pro-Obama “religious” groups like the George Soros funded Catholics United and the interdenominational Faith in Public Life, and dissenters will be silenced through mockery by the mainstream media which is overwhelmingly on the side of Obama, and propaganda campaigns led by the Obama administration and its allies to undermine leaders of any denomination who do not toe the line. Continue reading
“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.”
James Madison, Federalist 10
The video above is from the Heritage Foundation and incisively sets forth how ObamaCare is at war with religious liberty. The Founding Fathers made it clear that they viewed freedom of religion as being at the core of the framework of what they were seeking to accomplish:
“We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.”
“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”
Charles Carroll of Carollton
Pope Benedict recognizes the threat to religious freedom that exists in our country:
In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level. Continue reading
George Will on ABC’s This Week last Sunday made three points in regard to the HHS Mandate “compromise” that are undeniably true:
As Paul Ryan said to you, this is an accounting gimmick that they’ve done that in no way ends the complicity of Catholic institutions and individuals in delivering services they consider morally abhorrent.
Second. You asked the question, ‘How did this come about?’ George, this is what liberalism looks like. This is what the progressive state does. It tries to break all the institutions of civil society, all the institutions that mediate between the individual and the state. They have to break them to the saddle of the state.
Third. The Catholic Bishops, it serves them right. They’re the ones who were really hot for Obamacare, with a few exceptions. But they were all in favor of this. And this is what it looks like when the government decides it’s going to make your healthcare choices for you. Continue reading
Update III: The USCCB Pro-Life Director Richard Doerflinger and Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey agree with me that this “accommodation” or “compromise” is unacceptable. Sadly Sr. Keehan of the the Catholic Health Associate found this “satisfactory”. It looks like Obama will be happy that Sr. Keehan is on board. Of course, Planned Parenthood and Sr. Keehan agree.
Update II: Rumor confirmed. Insurance, that Religious Institutions pay into, will provide contraception, ie, it is still a violation of the First Amendment.
Update I: Rumor is that “Hawaii” compromise will be offered, but the bishops have already rejected this. So basically it’s a poor attempt at stalling and not really offering a solution.
The buzz this morning is that Obama is “caving in” to the pressure and will announce a “compromise” today at 12:15pm Eastern.
The news reports are saying that Religious Organizations won’t have to offer birth control, only the insurance companies that these Religious Organizations provide will offer birth control.
Yeah, that’s the compromise.
If these reports are true, this is dead on arrival. Changing the meaning of the words won’t do it.
Nothing like getting all your 30 pieces of silvers’ worth!