The individual mandate is neither “necessary” nor “proper”

That’s the argument of an Independence Institute amicus brief submitted to the 11th Circuit in Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s the summary of argument:

The Necessary and Proper Clause was one of a large family of similar clauses commonly appearing in eighteenth-century legal instruments delegating authority from one party to another. Those clauses followed several possible formulae. The Necessary and Proper Clause is a specimen of the most restrictive of those formulae: It does not actually grant additional authority beyond that conveyed by other enumerated powers. Rather, it is a recital, designed to inform the reader of two legal default rules: 

First, that express grants of enumerated powers, stated elsewhere, carry with them subsidiary incidental powers (“necessary”). 

Second, that congressional enactments must comply with standards of fiduciary obligation and administrative reasonableness (“proper”).

This understanding of the Clause appears in the legal practices and leading cases at the time the Constitution was adopted, and also in the history of the Clause itself—the records of its drafting, in the ratification debates, in the Supreme Court’s great case on the subject, M’Culloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819), and in Chief Justice John Marshall’s public explanations of M’Culloch.

Once the meaning of the Clause is understood, the implications for the individual mandate are clear:

The mandate is not “necessary” because power to impose it is not a subsidiary “incident” to Congress’s Commerce Power. The power to compel the purchase of a product is as great or greater than the power to regulate voluntary commerce; therefore the mandate cannot be an incidental power regardless of how helpful it might be. For Congress to possess authority of that kind, it would have to be separately enumerated in the Constitution.

The mandate is not “proper” because it violates the fiduciary obligations of impartiality embedded in the word “proper.” During the debates over ratification, participants recognized that a law chartering a commercial monopoly would be “improper.” A fortiori, compelled purchase from favored oligopolists is improper.

Thus, to the extent that the constitutionality of the individual mandate depends upon the Necessary and Proper Clause, the mandate is unconstitutional.

Besides the Independence Institute, the amici on the brief are Prof. Gary Lawson (BU), Prof. Robert G. Natelson (retired from U. Montana Law; currently a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute); and Prof. Guy I. Seidman (Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Israel). The three professors are among the co-authors of The Origins of the Necessary and Proper Clause (Cambridge, 2010).