The Individual Mandate Litigation: What’s Lochner got to do with It?

I have an op-ed up at Jurist Forum.  Here’s how it starts:

With the US Supreme Court poised to decide whether the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate is unconstitutional, the ghost of the notorious 1905 Supreme Court decision in Lochner v. New York hovers over the case. Invalidate the mandate and you are resurrecting Lochner, legal briefs supporting the government argue.

Yet the holding in Lochner, which found that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a robust right to “liberty of contract,” was overruled decades ago and is not at issue in the health care litigation. Plaintiffs have challenged the individual mandate primarily as being beyond Congress’s Article I, Section 8 power to regulate interstate commerce. They argue that this power must have substantive limits, or the Constitution would have simply given Congress the power to regulate everything.

So why are defenders of the mandate so eager to talk about Lochner? The answer lies in the peculiar status of Lochner in American constitutional discourse.

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