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
The Court’s opinion, written by Chief Justice John
Roberts, concludes that this penalty is the same thing as
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
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
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
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).
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
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.