Highlights of the Supreme Court Arguments on Obamacare

us supreme court buildingWednesday concluded Day 3 of oral arguments in the Supreme Court over the constitutional validity of the individual mandate portion of Obamacare. At issue: Is Congress authorized under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution to demand that all Americans purchase a product or service, regardless of whether or not the want it or even use it? 

In comes the slippery slope argument. After all, if the government can force you to purchase health insurance, what else can they force you to do? Buy a Chevy Volt tin can on wheels that sometimes sets itself on fire? How about terrorism insurance?


It’s been entertaining to read the transcripts from the Supreme Court, because the justices not in favor of the individual mandate have been asking the same questions I’ve been asking since Obama first mentioned health care reform. What can the government force you to buy?

Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Verrilli (basically, he’s the lawyer defending Obamacare) if the government could force someone to buy burial plots:

“Suppose that you and I walked around downtown Washington at lunch hour and we found a couple of healthy young people and we stopped them and we said: You know what you're doing? You are financing your burial services right now because eventually you're going to die, and somebody is going to have to pay for it, and if you don't have burial insurance and you haven't saved money for it, you're going to shift the cost to somebody else.”

Chief Justice Roberts asked if the government could make you buy cell phones:

Well, the same, it seems to me, would be true say for the market in emergency services: police, fire, ambulance, roadside assistance, whatever. You don't know when you're going to need it; you're not sure that you will. But the same is true for health care. You don't know if you're going to need a heart transplant or if you ever will. So there is a market there. To -- in some extent, we all participate in it. So can the government require you to buy a cell phone because that would facilitate responding when you need emergency services? You can just dial 911 no matter where you are?

Justice Scalia (my personal favorite!) wanted to know if exercise club memberships should be mandated, since, you know, exercising is good for your overall health:

"The something else is everybody has to exercise, because there's no doubt that lack of exercise cause -- causes illness, and that causes health care costs to go up. So the federal government says everybody has to -- to join a -- an exercise club. That's -- that's the something else." 

The right-leaning justices say they are prepared to strike down the entire boondoggle of a law. Sure, we have a health insurance problem in our country. The way to fix it is not to mandate health insurance – that will only make it worse. Heck, even professional Democrat James Carville thinks striking down the law is a good idea: 

"I think that [an overturn] will be the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic party because health care costs are gonna escalate unbelievably," Carville told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in his characteristic southern drawl, adding "I really believe that, this is not spin."

Maybe once Obamacare is officially out the door, we can start the real work of reforming health care: Untangling the government from what should be private purchases of professional services by free citizens.  


Image via Phil Roeder/Flickr

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