It’s official. The Supreme Court has finally handed down its long-awaited ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” upholding most parts of the 2010 law. (The full decision is available in PDF format here.)
Republicans were disheartened. Democrats were thrilled. Libertarians were…not at all surprised. This is, after all, a government that maintains its own system of checks and balances.
Some conservatives, searching desperately for a silver lining, have tried to spin the Court’s decision as a victory for the Constitution. Bert Atkinson Jr., in a column in the Independent Journal Review, calls the opinion rendered by Chief Justice John Roberts “brilliant”:
Ultimately, Roberts supported states rights by limiting the federal government’s coercive abilities. He ruled that the government cannot force the people to purchase products or services under the commerce clause, and he forced liberals to have to come clean and admit that Obama-care is funded by tax increases.
Dov Fischer, writing for AmericanThinker.com, agrees:
The rules guiding lower-court wrestling matches over federal power to invade Americans’ private lives now have been reset remarkably by Chief Justice Roberts. Few today notice what he has done. Long after many of us are gone, this 5-4 opinion finally setting limits on the reach of the Commerce Clause will continue to affect American lives and protect private citizens from Washington’s intrusions.
So, in other words, we should take comfort in the fact that Congress cannot force its health care mandate down our throats using the interstate commerce clause, but instead must force it down our throats using its power to tax. Tomato, tomahto.
Congressman Ron Paul, on the other hand, sees it differently. He released this statement immediately following the Court’s decision:
Today we should remember that virtually everything government does is a “mandate.” The issue is not whether Congress can compel commerce by forcing you to buy insurance, or simply compel you to pay a tax if you don’t. The issue is that this compulsion implies the use of government force against those who refuse. The fundamental hallmark of a free society should be the rejection of force. In a free society, therefore, individuals could opt out of “Obamacare” without paying a government tribute.
If the hallmark of a free society is indeed the rejection of force, then the Supreme Court has once again reminded us that ours is not a free society.
Now that the precedent has been established, what is there to prevent the federal government from passing similar laws affecting consumer choice? Under the guise of protecting the environment, Congress could one day require citizens to purchase electric cars. They wouldn’t have to invoke the ever-popular commerce clause. All that would be needed is the imposition of a penalty (i.e. tax) on those who insist on driving old fashioned gas-guzzlers.
Every government regulation is backed by the explicit or implicit threat of force against those who refuse to comply. The Court’s ruling, no matter how you look at it, essentially states that the federal government does have the power to control, or at least strongly influence, the personal health care decisions of individual citizens. Whether that control is exercised directly through a mandate or indirectly in the form of a tax, the difference is negligible, and liberty suffers as a result.