Health-Care Reform and the Constitution

A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that a key feature of Obama's health-care reform--the mandate on individuals to buy insurance--is unconstitutional. In due course the issue will be decided in the Supreme Court. If you want to understand the legal issues underlying the case, and get some guidance on how things are likely to go, you cannot do better than read this column by Stuart Taylor.

Note that, as Taylor points out, the individual mandate may not be the part of the policy that is most vulnerable to constitutional challenge. (Florida and other states are challenging the law before another federal judge tomorrow, arguing among other things that the federal government cannot force the states to expand their Medicaid programs.) In the end, Taylor expects the Supreme Court to go along and uphold the reform, but don't take it for granted--especially if the law remains unpopular. What, you mean the court would be influenced by that? You bet it would be.

[T]he bottom line is that I think that a perhaps narrow majority of the justices would defer to the political branches here. The alternative would be to strike down the president's signature initiative -- something that no Court has done in more than 70 years, for good reason.

But what if the new law continues to remain unpopular with voters, or even become more unpopular? What if they sweep congressional Democrats out of power in November, or even sweep Barack Obama out of the presidency in 2012? What if majorities of the new House and Senate sign friend-of-the-court briefs asking the justices to strike down the mandate, which was passed without a single Republican vote? And what if--politics and law aside--the whole business comes to look like a mess that can be salvaged only by a Supreme Court decision clearing the decks for Congress to rethink health care reform from the ground up?

Such are the dreams of those who imagine the justices striking down the proposed health care mandate. I hope that they don't all come true. But if they do, five justices might go with the flow.

Presented by

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Politics

Just In