Tag Archives | Jack Balkin

Is the tax power infinite?

One source of the impending constitutional challenge to the Obamacare mandate is that exceeds the enumerated powers granted to Congress under Article I, section 8. For example, that the people’s grant to power to Congress to regulate commerce  among the several states does not include the power to compel people to engage in commerce. Jack Balkin, writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, has two responses: 1. Yes it does, because of Wickard and Raich, since people without insurance will eventually get sick and then buy health services; and allowing these people to buy health services outside the congressional system would undermine the congressional regulation. 2. The mandate is structured as a tax.

For the moment, let’s put aside the question of whether the Obamacare tax is an Article I tax, or a 16th Amendment income tax. Does Congress have the infinite power to control people’s behavior (such as by ordering them to engage in commercial transactions) via the tax power?  I suggest not. When the Bill of Rights was being debated in front of Congress, the skeptical Rep. Theodore Sedgwick of Massachusetts asked if there should also be an enumeration that “declared that a man should have a right to wear his hat if he pleased; that he might get up when he pleased, and go to bed when he thought proper.” 1 Annals of Congress 759-60 (Aug. 15, 1789). Sedgewick’s point was that national laws about bedtimes and hat-wearing were self-evidently beyond the authority of Congress.

However, if the tax power means that Congress can order citizens to buy something they don’t want to buy, why does Congress not have the power to assess taxes on people who get too little sleep, or too much sleep, and thereby harm their own health and the public […]

Continue Reading 96