Republicans Say Everything the Dems Pass Is Unconstitutional -- Even Policies They've Championed for Decades
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And here, again, it's worth noting that “the 5th Congress did not really need to struggle over the intentions of the drafters of the Constitutions in creating this Act as many of its members were the drafters of the Constitution.” The bill was signed into law by none other than John Adams, considered to be among the most influential of the “Founding Fathers.” Thomas Jefferson was the president of the Senate at the time, and Jonathan Dayton, the youngest man to sign the Constitution, served as Speaker of the House.
As the current legislation stands, even the American Enterprise Institute concedes that “the majority of constitutional experts are betting that the courts will uphold the mandate” – although they're not happy about it. And that's because the other Constitutional arguments against the reforms are just as dubious. Conservatives have come to use the Constitution as a crutch, avoiding debates on the merits of various proposals by asserting, with a broad wave of the hand, that whatever the policy in question may be, it's all illegitimate.
The constitutionality of the health-care mandate will ultimately be decided by an activist majority on the Supreme Court. Nobody can predict how it will rule, but the Constitution gives the Congress power to “to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises ... and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States,” a power the Congressional Research Service characterizes as ”one of the broadest powers in the Constitution,” and one that forms “the basis of government health programs in the Social Security Act, including Medicare, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause as giving the government the authority to regulate not only interstate commercial transactions in a limited sense, but also “those activities having a substantial relation to interstate commerce.” (Our health-care system is the costliest in the world, and eats up about 18 percent of our economic output, so it's hard to see how one can argue that it doesn't have a “substantial relation” to our national economy.)
Then there's the common conservative argument that the Commerce Clause only covers economic activity, but not inactivity – a claim that is also factually incorrect, but was nonetheless accepted by Henry Hudson, the federal judge who ruled against the government in the Virginia suit. But even if it were true, it's hard to see the relevance of the argument given the Constitution's Necessary and Proper clause, which authorizes the government to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers.”
So, to recap: Congress is expressly authorized to raise taxes and spend public funds to further the “general welfare” of the nation; it can regulate any area that has a “substantial relation” to interstate commerce, and it can pass any law that is “necessary and proper” to further those enumerated powers.
On its face, there's nothing in the Constitution constraining the government from enacting its health-care scheme. But the heart of conservative rhetoric these days is that any legislation passed by Democrats is illegitimate and defies the will of the Founders, as channeled by the mystics who lead the Tea Party movement.
That's apparently the case even when those policies are among those they've championed for years based on their own ideological preferences.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America) . Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter .