My SCOTUSblog Post on the Future of the Individual Mandate Litigation

SCOTUSblog has just posted my contribution to their symposium on the individual mandate litigation. I interpreted the assignment as focusing primarily on the future prospects of the individual mandate challenges, rather than on the question of whether they deserve to win. So I focused primarily on the former question, even though some other participants in the symposium seem to have concentrated more on the latter. For those interested in my take on the normative question, I summarized it here. Here’s an excerpt from the SCOTUSblog post:

The Supreme Court may hear at least one of the cases challenging the constitutionality of the Obama health care bill’s individual mandate sometime during the next year. If it does, the result will have major implications for our system of constitutional federalism. If the federal government prevails, Congress is likely to have an unlimited power to impose mandates of any kind. If the plaintiffs win, the Court will have reaffirmed the importance of constitutional limits on federal power….

Every judge who has ruled on the issue has recognized that Congress has never previously imposed a comparably sweeping mandate under the Commerce Clause, and that the Supreme Court has never ruled on the issue of whether Congress has a general power to regulate inactivity. Given the deep ideological divisions over the case and the lack of precedent clearly on point, the Court could easily rule either way.

Nonetheless, the federal government probably has a better chance than the plaintiffs. The Court’s four most liberal Justices have consistently refused to recognize any meaningful limits on Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause. Thus, the mandate will be upheld if even one of the five conservatives votes in its favor. And the conservatives have often been a fractious bunch in federalism cases….

At the same time, it is also possible that the conservative Justices will be unwilling to uphold the mandate because doing so is likely to give Congress unconstrained authority to impose virtually any other mandate. In the recent case of Bond v. United States, Justice Anthony Kennedy – a key swing voter – emphasized that constitutional constraints on federal power protect “the liberty of the individual” as well as “state sovereignty.” If the Court gives Congress unlimited power to impose mandates, that principle will be gutted. Thus, the Justices are likely to uphold the mandate only if they can find some way to do it without giving Congress a blank check to impose future mandates at will. Unconstrained congressional authority to impose mandates also goes against the text and original meaning of the Constitution, a consideration that might sway the originalists on the Court.

SCOTUSlog has also recently published several other contributions to the Symposium, including this one by co-blogger Jonathan Adler, and this one by Cory Andrews of the Washington Legal Foundation, with whom I have worked on several amicus briefs in the individual mandate cases on behalf of WLF, a group of constitutional law scholars, and several members of Congress. Obviously, the symposium also includes various contributions by prominent defenders of the mandate, with more to come. Check it out!

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