Damon Root on the “libertarian legal movement threatens Barack Obama’s signature law.”

June 11th, 2012

A wonderful piece. I sent Damon a note on this. He also wrote a similar feature about McDonald and Heller.

President Barack Obama was all smiles when he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) into law at a special ceremony in the East Room of the White House on March 23, 2010. “With all the punditry, all of the lobbying, all of the game playing that passes for governing in Washington,” Obama declared, “it’s been easy at times to doubt our ability to do such a big thing, such a complicated thing.”

It turns out there was a much better reason to doubt the federal government’s ability to do such a big, complicated thing: the Constitution of the United States of America. Barely two years after the president’s health care overhaul was enacted, his solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, stood before the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and tried desperately to salvage the law. When the clock ran out on Verrilli’s time, Obama and his supporters faced a challenge they hadn’t expected: Their sweeping conception of federal authority had to contend with a robust libertarian legal movement that insisted Congress may not exercise powers the Constitution does not grant.

At issue was a lawsuit originally filed by Florida and 12 other states on the very day Obama signed the PPACA. Although the suit challenged several components of the legislation, its main target was the controversial “requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage.” Also known as the “individual mandate,” this provision would force all Americans to obtain medical coverage meeting minimum standards set by the government. To justify the health insurance mandate, the PPACA cited the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which authorizes Congress “to regulate commerce…among the several states.” By the time the legal challenge reached the Supreme Court, a total of 26 states had joined it, along with the National Federation of Independent Business and several individuals.