The Supreme Court Should Remand the Affordable Care Act to Congress

Like David, I too was invited to contribute to the new Scotusblog Community on the question of what the Supreme Court should do with the Affordable Care Act. Rather then simply repeat my constitutional arguments, I took a different tack:

The Supreme Court should remand the Affordable Care Act to Congress for its further consideration.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was a constitutional mistake and a historical accident. In the fall of 2009, 60 Senate Democrats were struggling to pass some type of health care reform, any type of health care reform. There were not 60 votes for “single payer” (i.e. Medicare for Everyone); there were not even 60 votes for a “public option” (i.e. voluntary Medicare for pre-retirement Americans); and there were certainly not 60 votes to do anything that would raise taxes on those making less than $200,000 per year.

So Democrats went into a closed room — the same room that produced the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase — and adopted the individual insurance mandate under its Commerce Clause power. It was not as though they weren’t warned. The Congressional Research Service correctly informed them that a mandate that all Americans enter into a contractual relationship with a private company for the rest of their lives was literally unprecedented and of dubious constitutionality. Senate Republicans made a constitutional objection to the individual mandate, which the Democrats defeated on a straight party-line vote the day before passing the Act on Christmas Eve.

But this bill was likely never intended to become law. It was intended to get the issue out of the Senate with 60 votes in favor of health care reform. The real bill would then be written in conference with the House and voted on later. But then something unexpected happened: Scott Brown was elected Senator from Massachusetts (!) on this issue. Now Democrats had a choice. Approve the constitutionally-suspect Affordable Care Act in the House (over the strenuous objection of many Democratic members), or go back to the drawing board. But with Republicans and millions of Americans now vocally protesting the constitutionality of the bill, for the first time in American history, a sweeping new social welfare scheme was enacted with the votes of only one party over bipartisan opposition.

Heeding the advice of legal academics, the Democrats wagered that the courts would never strike down so ambitious a social welfare scheme. Then, when this elaborate mechanism eventually failed to deliver on its promises of “bending the cost curve” and “universal coverage” — after private insurance companies had been turned into regulated public utilities — they could then push for their real desire: Single Payer.

Although Congress is a co-equal branch of government, the Supreme Court need not “defer” to what happened here. Instead, it should refuse to extend to Congress the entirely novel and dangerous power to compel all Americans to do business with whatever private company that Congress happens to have the power and votes to regulate. The Court should send this bill back to Congress so Congress can use its ample powers under existing doctrine to tax and spend, as well as to regulate interstate commerce. Such a ruling would affect no other law that has ever been enacted.

I predict that the result of such a decision would be major health care legislation that would not only be far better public policy, it would receive the same type of bipartisan support that has previously been enjoyed by every major piece of social-welfare legislation in our history.

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