Kevin Drum, in Mother Jones, contends that we diabolical conservatives first strong-armed the Republican Party into accepting our view of the unconstitutionality of the Obamacare individual mandate, then we successfully used the right-wing media to brainwash the mainstream media into accepting our arguments as legitimate, and all this, you see, gives cover to our partisan judges to make a partisan ruling.
Two years ago, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, the idea that its individual mandate provision was unconstitutional was laughable. There was no case law, no precedent, and frankly, no serious argument that the federal government’s Commerce Clause power didn’t give it the authority to mandate purchase of health insurance if it wanted to. That’s why Democrats didn’t bother looking for a clever alternativeâ€”many of which were availableâ€”in order to avoid including an explicit mandate in the law. They didn’t think they needed to. Of course it was constitutional. Even Randy Barnett, the law professor who popularized the activity/inactivity distinction that opponents latched onto as their best bet against the mandate, initially didn’t really think it was anything but a long shot.
So how did that conventional wisdom change so dramatically in only two years? …
let’s hear what a nonliberal has to say about it:
Orin Kerr says that, in the two years since he gave the individual mandate only a one-percent chance of being overturned, three key things have happened. First, congressional Republicans made the argument against the mandate a Republican position. Then it became a standard conservative-media position. “That legitimized the argument in a way we haven’t really seen before,” Kerr said. “We haven’t seen the media pick up a legal argument and make the argument mainstream by virtue of media coverage.” Finally, he says, “there were two conservative district judges who agreed with the argument, largely echoing the Republican position and the media coverage. And, once you had all that, it really became a ballgame.”
This is, needless to say, a powerfully depressing analysis. For all practical purposes, Kerr is agreeing that conservative judges don’t even bother pretending to be neutral anymore. They listen to Fox News, and if something becomes a consvative talking point then they’re on board. And that goes all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Kevin Drum’s perspective amounts to assuming that extreme New Deal jurisprudence, like the 1942 Wickard v. Filburn (a decision which ruled that the Constitution’s grant of power to regulate Interstate Commerce gave Congress the power to tell an Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburn that he was not allowed to grow wheat on his farm to feed his own chickens. Farmer Filburn using his own wheat, and not buying wheat on the market, was deemed to impact Interstate Commerce and therefore to provide a legal basis for Congressional authority.) was good law and destined to endure forever unchallenged by the reasoning of later courts.
Kevin Drum studiously ignores the fact that the Constitution-in-exile of the New Deal era has been gradually coming back. The Supreme Court resumed, in a modest way, re-adopting the perspective that Constitutional authority to regulate Interstate Commerce actually required the legislative object to involve commerce crossing state lines. In U.S. v. Lopez (1995), the Court struck down a Gun-Free School Zone law because the regulated activity concerned actually had nothing to do with Interstate Commerce.
A number of other once-thought-to-be-extinct Constitutional provisions, like the Second Amendment, have come roaring back to life in recent years.
To believe, as people like Kevin Drum and Nancy Pelosi notoriously did, that it was completely unnecessary to look for an actual constitutionally enumerated power to permit Congress to tell Americans to buy health insurance policies is to reject the fundamental American idea of limited government.
What has actually occurred, over decades, is a national debate over whether a long string of unprincipled, legal realist rulings simply setting the Constitution and the entire earlier history of constitutional law aside were correct. In law review articles, public debate, and in national elections leading to judicial appointments and ultimately to rulings, the left has been losing and the conservative position has been winning.
In the end, there should be no surprise to anyone who takes the Constitution seriously when the Obamacare individual mandate is struck down. That was the intent of the framers, and those of us who contend that that is what the Constitution says inevitably have the better arguments.