The Supreme Court has upheld most of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. I'll admit to being a nerd. I've read the Court's fascinating decision. And here are three takeaways from it.
#1) Congress has enormous powers to tax.
It's been said millions of times the only two certainties in life are death and taxes. This Court decision proves that. The Affordable Care Act requires every American to purchase or have some form of health insurance. Failure to do so will result in a financial penalty payable to the IRS.
The Court's opinion, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, concludes that this penalty is the same thing as a tax.
Therefore, it is Constitutional under Congress' ability to levy taxes (Article 1 Section 8 Clause 1). The tax could have been thrown out if it had been ruled prohibitive. Roberts concludes it isn't because based on estimates the tax will be significantly less costly than purchasing health insurance.
Taxes are often thought of as a means to raise revenue.
That's not the only reason though.
Taxes can also be levied to alter behavior. Roberts uses the example of cigarette taxes. He writes, ‘Today, federal and state taxes can compose more than half the retail price of cigarettes, not just to raise money, but to encourage people to quit smoking.'
Roberts said similar reasoning upholds the individual mandate.
‘Although the payment will raise considerable revenue, it is plainly designed to expand health insurance coverage. But taxes that seek to influence conduct are nothing new.'
#2)John Roberts shows judicial restraint.
In reading this opinion, I'm left with the conclusion that John Roberts has a brilliant legal mind. He views the Supreme Court collectively as one body. Reading his opinions is like getting a Supreme Court history lesson. He refers to court decisions as far back as the early 1800's with a, ‘we.' As in we upheld this based on this case or we overturned this because of that one.
Realizing this, it is clear Roberts shows judicial restraint. He believes each branch of Government has their individual roles and sticks to them. The Court's job is to interpret the laws.
On page 2 of his opinion he writes, ‘We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation's elected leaders. We ask only whether Congress has the power under the Constitution to enact the challenged provisions.'
He also adds, ‘Resolving this controversy requires us to examine both the limits of the Government's power, and our own limited role in policing those boundaries.'
I'll admit, I don't think the Affordable Care Act will solve our nation's health care woes. But, as Roberts points out, that's not their job. Their job is to determine if Congress is acting within their powers.
Like it or not in this case, they are. Which leads me to the third takeaway.
#3)We are the ultimate check and balance on Government power.
Roberts makes this clear in his opinion as well. On page 6 he writes:
"Proper respect for a co-ordinate branch of the government" requires that we strike down an Act of Congress only if "the lack of constitutional authority to pass [the] act in question is clearly demon¬strated."
United States v. Harris, 106 U. S. 629, 635 (1883).
Members of this Court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments. Those decisions are entrusted to our Nation's elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them. It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.
In other words, it's on us. Congress' powers are massive. As an elected body they chose to either push the limits of this power or to show restraint. We, as voters, determine which of those choices we would like them to make. Much like a cop who pulls you over for speeding, you hope to get off with a warning. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes you end up with a ticket. Roberts shows restraint can be wonderful; Congress shows us the opposite.
It's clear from the Supreme Court's decision the Chief Justice isn't in charge of dialing back Congressional power. We are. Hopefully we will remember that when we head to the ballot box this November and every November from here on out.
Rob Hunter contributes during the Bruce St. James Show, weekdays from 9-Noon on 92.3 KTAR. He also co-hosts, Rob and Mark, Saturdays from 12-3pm.