This is the month history will be made.
To Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona and the rest of the short list of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, the justices later this month will add Florida v. HHS – the historic and decisive ruling on the constitutionality of the federal health-care law.
As with those other milestone cases in the annals of American jurisprudence, the “Obamacare” ruling will be a turning point in individual rights. And this one will be no less monumental.
“June is shaping up to be a pivotal month for American liberty,” writes author Matt Patterson in a Washington Times column headlined “June can’t come soon enough.”
“The stakes could not be higher: Should the court uphold the individual mandate, it effectively will have abolished the limited, constitutional republic the Founding Fathers created more than two centuries ago.”
As consequential as the issues surrounding health care are, that’s not really the matter before the court. The central question for the justices is: Does the Constitution bestow upon the federal government the power to require all Americans to buy insurance, at the bayonet’s point of a fine?
The logical question that follows, as one of the justices inquired during oral arguments, is this: If the government can order us to buy health insurance, what can’t it do?
The government’s argument – essentially, that everyone needs health care, and is therefore in the health-care market, and we’re just regulating it for you – isn’t just a slippery slope; it’s the tallest peak in North America. As Justice Antonin Scalia noted during oral arguments in March, by that logic a Congress could mandate the purchase of broccoli or other healthy foods because it’s in the public good and, heck, people are already in the market for food and we’re just regulating it for you.
Again: Using this logic, there is virtually nothing the government couldn’t do.
That, of course, is quite contrary to the letter and spirit of our founding document, which, for now, is still the supreme law of the land. The Constitution explicitly enumerates the powers of each of the three branches of government – an implicit and, we would argue, explicit message that those powers are limited.
To clear up any misconceptions, however, they followed up with a Bill of Rights, our first 10 amendments to the Constitution, further detailing the limits on government power – the 10th of which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
That little bit of early-American prose may be the amendment we quote the most on these pages – because it is likely the most neglected and abused of our Bill of Rights.
Thus, this case is a two-fer – a double-feature of fundamental American freedoms: both individual and states’ rights. No wonder that 26 states have joined together to fight
this unprecedented excursion into the affairs of state and person.
But it’s even bigger than that. Now it’s a First Amendment attack on the free expression of religion, as the Obama administration seeks to force religious institutions to provide birth control and abortion pill coverage.
Past landmark cases have presented forks in the road on such things as integration, abortion, campaign finance and the rights of criminal suspects. All mammoth decisions, historical guideposts every one. But rarely, if ever, has that legal fork in the road been so overcrowded. Imagine a marathon’s starting line with every American poised to run. This case will touch on every American’s rights and liberties.
This case, perhaps unique among landmark court cases, also has the capacity to swing a presidential election.
And how often do a majority of the states rebel against Washington?
“With more than half of the United States suing the federal government,” writes blogger Amanda Read, “the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA, or “Obamacare”) case is a virtual civil war being waged through the courts.”
The public policy issues of Obamacare are another matter entirely. By any measure, it has to be the most irresponsible, potentially disastrous legislation in U.S. history. The bill was so monstrous, at some 2,700 pages, that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., actually said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” As that indicates, it’s difficult to imagine anyone in Congress had read it before voting on it. More recently, Justice Scalia humorously suggested that having to read the bill violated the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Then there’s the little matter that it was rammed through on a purely party-line vote. On such a momentous public policy decision, shouldn’t more of a consensus be reached?
Moreover, a recent survey by the Physicians Foundation reveals that 60 percent of doctors under 40 years of age are pessimistic about the future of American health care – the No. 1 reason being the federal health care law. Only 23 percent believe the law will have a positive impact on their practice.
An article, and harbinger for us all, at InsuranceNewsNet.com says, “Student health insurance costs at Clearwater Christian College ... are set to double this year. In a letter to students who will be affected by the cost hike, the college made it clear that the increase is due to the president’s health care reform law.” And a recent study by a trustee of Social Security and Medicare says Obamacare won’t save money, but will add $340 billion to the federal deficit.
Even as significant as all those considerations are, and as vital as health care is, this is the bottom line: This ruling will decide whether American exceptionalism endures. It will determine whether America will continue standing unique in the world, and in human history, in recognizing the self-evident truth of our God-given, unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Without the spirit of the Declaration of Independence and adherence to the Constitution, there is no American exceptionalism, and we become just another country whose government is simply going to tell the people how it is.
It doesn’t get more landmark than that.