A constitutional perfect storm?

April 6, 2010

At American Thinker, Larrey Anderson takes a cautious view of the chances for success in the suits by state Attorneys General against ObamaCare, especially the individual mandate, because the states have since the Great Depression largely cooperated in the cession of power to Washington. It’s a point well-taken, though I disagree with his example of the interstate highway system; I think that clearly falls under the Commerce Clause.

However, Mr. Anderson does believe that a combination of suits from the states and individuals harmed by ObamaCare might well have a chance. In a rather shotgun approach, he argues for relief based on more than half the Bill of Rights, specifically the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th amendments. Follow the link above for the full article, but I want to quote his argument regarding the 5th amendment, which quite matches my own thinking. The hypothetical situation is that of a woman who chooses not to get insurance for herself, and then contests the penalty the IRS assesses against her:

The “penalty” is a violation of the young mother’s 5th Amendment rights: “No person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” [Emphasis mine.]

Since the IRS will garnish the mother’s wages, there will be no due process for the mother without a protracted legal battle through many strata of bureaucracies. The woman’s money is her private property. It is being taken from her, for public use, without any (let alone “just”) compensation.

I think this is inherently correct, though an attack based on this reasoning would likely meet a lot of resistance, because it could be interpreted as a challenge to the whole of the IRS’ administrative enforcement powers.  However, by combining the the taking of private property without just compensation condition with the lack of due process, an argument can be made limited to the specific abuse of power, not the structure of IRS enforcement in total.

Anderson also makes an interesting and ironic argument related to the 9th amendment, which protects the unenumerated rights of the people.

Finally, the mother could sue under the 9th Amendment. The 9th Amendment is short and sweet:

  • The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.


What is interesting about the possibility of a 9th Amendment challenge to ObamaCare is that previous “progressive” decisions issued by the Supreme Court could offer some of the best ammunition for the case that the legislation is unconstitutional.

Anderson cites the precedent of Griswold v. Connecticut, a birth-control case that laid the legal foundation for Roe v. Wade, and which relied heavily on 9th amendment protections. He again makes an interesting argument that the same 9th amendment reasoning applied in Griswold also applies against the Federal government’s claim to the power to enforce an individual mandate. Since Griswold and the cases based on it are darlings of the progressive Left, it would be ironic indeed if the same amendment and constitutional logic were used to undo the Left’s golden-calf legislation.

RELATED: Some earlier thoughts on the matter.


State legislatures revolt against ObamaCare mandates

February 2, 2010

Interesting:

Although President Barack Obama’s push for a health care overhaul has stalled, conservative lawmakers in more than two-thirds of the states are forging ahead with constitutional amendments to ban government health insurance mandates.

The proposals would assert a state-based right for people to pay medical bills from their own pocketbooks and prohibit penalties against those who refuse to carry health insurance.

In many states, the proposals began as a backlash to Democratic health care plans pending in Congress. But instead of backing away after a Massachusetts election gave Senate Republicans the filibuster power to halt the health care legislation, many state lawmakers are ramping up their efforts with new enthusiasm.

The moves reflect the continued political potency of the issue for conservatives, who have used it extensively for fundraising and attracting new supporters. The legal impact of any state measures may be questionable because courts generally have held that federal laws trump those in states.

Lawmakers in 35 states have filed or proposed amendments to their state constitutions or statutes rejecting health insurance mandates, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit group that promotes limited government that is helping coordinate the efforts. Many of those proposals are targeted for the November ballot, assuring that health care remains a hot topic as hundreds of federal and state lawmakers face re-election.

Legislative committees in Idaho and Virginia endorsed their measures this past week. Supporters held a rally at the Pennsylvania Capitol. And hearings on the proposed constitutional amendments were held in Georgia and Missouri. The Missouri hearing drew overflow crowds the day after Obama urged federal lawmakers during his State of the Union address to keep pressing to pass a health care bill. The Nebraska Legislature plans a hearing on a measure this coming week.

Supporters of the state measures portray them as a way of defending individual rights and state sovereignty, asserting that the federal government has no authority to tell states and their citizens to buy health insurance.

There’s an argument to be made that requiring private citizens to buy a product as a matter of law violates both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments of the Bill of Rights. The Ninth protects “unenumerated rights,” that is, those not specifically mentioned in the Constitution but still derived from natural law, while the Tenth specifies that powers not explicitly granted to the Federal government under the Constitution are retained by the states and the people. The argument over how to interpret these amendments and the proper balance of the roles of the federal and state governments is one of the oldest in American political history, going back to the Constitutional Convention itself.

I’m not an expert, but my guess is that an argument under the Ninth would be that the freedom to decide which products to purchase, if any, falls under the right of the individual to be sovereign over his property, including his money and his own person. Under the Tenth, it could be argued that, since the commerce in health insurance does not cross state borders*, Congress has no power under the Constitution to regulate it, and that state laws barring an individual mandate are therefore valid. Also, since no power to command the purchases of the people was granted, Congress has no authority.

*(I wonder if the Right is opening a can of worms by calling for interstate commerce in health insurance, since then Congress could regulate it under the Commerce Clause…)

I think an argument under the Tenth is probably correct; I have no idea about the Ninth, which, as I understand it, is rarely invoked in US law. Regardless, since I vehemently oppose socialized medicine and, in particular, ObamaCare, I hope these acts by state legislatures withstand constitutional scrutiny.

On the other hand, they do remind me uncomfortably of the Nullification Crisis

RELATED: A very good book on the Bill of Rights, with a chapter on the Ninth amendment.

UPDATE: I should point out that the Virginia Senate, which is dominated by Democrats, is one of the bodies voting to tell the Fed to stuff it.