Healthcare and the Constitution

The healthcare debate is far from over, but now the future of the United States’ healthcare system is not the only issue at stake. More important is Congress’s dwindling adherence to the Constitution.

On January 31st, Judge Roger Vinson, a federal district court judge in Florida, ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. He was the first federal judge to do so, though another federal judge has invalidated the insurance mandate and two others have upheld the law, which was largely a Democratic initiative.

Vinson’s much-debated decision hinged on the constitutionality of the law’s mandate that every individual in the United States buy health insurance or face punishment. According to Vinson, the Commerce Clause of the Constitution is not an appropriate justification for the individual mandate. The clause regulates activity, not inactivity (in this case, the failure to buy health insurance). Furthermore, Vinson argued, the individual mandate was the linchpin without which the whole healthcare law could not function. Since that part of the law is not within the scope of Congress’s powers, the entire law is unconstitutional.

Vinson further argued that the law is an issue of federalism and the reach of the federal government into people’s personal decisions, not of the United States’ healthcare system. “Never before has Congress required that everyone buy a product from a private company (essentially for life) just for being alive and residing in the United States,” he wrote in the decision.

Democrats, of course, do not think the law oversteps Congress’s boundaries as enumerated by the Constitution. Some Democrats, such as former Representative Phil Hare of Illinois, find the Constitution irrelevant when it conflicts with their legislative goals.

Last year, a member of the Tea Party asked Hare what part of the Constitution justified the individual mandate of the healthcare law. Hare answered, “I don’t worry about the Constitution on this.” He went on to say that he merely believes “[the Constitution] says we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – which is simply false, for the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, mentions life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Hare shrugged off his gaffe and said, “But at the end of the day, I want to bring insurance to every person that lives in this country.”

Hare is not the only Democratic member of Congress who shows a clear disregard for the Constitution. When asked in 2009 what part of the Constitution gave Congress the power to mandate that Americans buy health insurance, then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California answered, “Are you serious? Are you serious?”

When members of Congress are sworn in, they have to take an oath of office: “I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States.” But in backing a constitutionally unsound law, it seems as though the Democrats in Congress like Hare and Pelosi choose not to cede to the Constitution, the supreme law of the land, when their legislative goals conflict with the principles set forth by the framers.

Note to Democrats: The Constitution is more important than any legislative agenda. It is the backbone of the American system of government, and it protects people’s liberties. To say the least, it is an important document that every member of congress must obey. The United States is the world’s longest-functioning democracy because of the Constitution.

The framers of the Constitution intended to create a government that did not reach too far into people’s personal lives. Vinson struck down a law that represented an overstepping of federal power into people’s decisions. In refusing to follow the Constitution by passing a law that uses too much federal power, Democrats have set a dangerous precedent that it’s fine to disregard the Constitution for the sake of passing laws that are favorable with the electorate.

Yes, Congress needs to address the millions of people who do not have healthcare or have inadequate healthcare. But we’re serious when we say everyone in Congress must follow the Constitution to find a solution to the ailing healthcare system.


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About the author

Olivia Conetta is a co-editor-in-chief at The Spectator. She is majoring in public policy and economics and hails from Roslyn, New York.

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