McConnell on “The Liberal Legal Meltdown Over ObamaCare”

In today’s WSJ, Stanford law professor and former federal appellate judge Michael McConnell has an op-ed commenting on the tone and content of much liberal commentary on the individual mandate litigation. It begins:

In apparent panic at the tenor of the Supreme Court argument over the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare), liberal law professors have exploded with anticipatory denunciations of the court’s conservative justices—claiming that it would be “hypocritical” and “partisan” of them to invalidate legislation passed by Congress when they generally oppose “judicial activism.”

It appears the professors’ idea of sound jurisprudence is that their favored justices are free to invalidate statutes that offend their sensibilities whether or not the words of the Constitution have anything to say on the matter, as in the case of same-sex marriage or partial-birth abortion, and even if the Constitution seems to endorse it, as in capital punishment. But if conservative justices have the temerity to enforce actual limits on government power stated in Article I, Section 8—over liberal dissents—then they are acting as shameless partisans.

It seems unlikely this one-sided definition of “activism” will persuade anyone. Judicial review might be aggressive and it might be deferential, but there cannot be one set of rules for liberal justices and another set for conservatives.

His brief piece goes on to explain how the argument against the mandate is grounded in the bedrock constitutional principle that ours is a federal government of limited and enumerated powers — and that the enumeration of certain powers presupposes powers not enumerated. Opponents have argued that the mandate transgresses the limits of federal power (not, as critics have claimed, that the mandate violates any independent limitation on federal power, such as due process or any enumerated rights). Supporters of the mandate, on the other hand, have failed to offer any principled constitutional theory that would allow for the Court to uphold the mandate without giving Congress a blank check. This failing is what doomed the Gun Free School Zones Act in United States v. Lopez, and it’s what has placed the mandate in jeopardy as well. The Solicitor General and others have tried to explain why health care is “different” but none of these arguments are “grounded in any principle based in constitutional text, history or theory.”