Can Obama force you to buy health insurance?
Nothing in the Constitution allows the individual mandate he proposes.
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Justice Clarence Thomas dissented: "If the Federal Government can regulate growing a half-dozen cannabis plants for personal consumption (not because it is interstate commerce, but because it is inextricably bound up with interstate commerce), then Congress' Article I powers … have no meaningful limits." Indeed, practically nothing is beyond the pale anymore.Skip to next paragraph
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Then there is the privacy issue. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Roe v. Wade (1973), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) the court found reproductive freedom to be guaranteed as an implicit right to privacy. In Casey, the court reasoned that abortion entailed "the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy," and that such choices are "central to the liberty protected by the 14th Amendment."
Why wouldn't this apply to the right to decide whether to buy health insurance?
Other constitutional concerns emerge. The mass collection of medical data likely to occur under proposed reforms threatens the Fourth Amendment's "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects." Making it a crime not to buy insurance, and then forcing people to show they have not bought it, arguably clashes with the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.
The Ninth Amendment reserves to individuals all rights not expressly denied by the Constitution. Nothing in the document curtails our right not to purchase health insurance. And being forced to fill out forms to apply for insurance is in tension with the 13th Amendment's prohibition of "involuntary servitude."
The quality we could expect from government care may also raise constitutional questions. In early August, a federal panel ordered California to release 40,000 inmates because the health services were so strained, causing one unnecessary prisoner death per week, so as to render the treatment "unconstitutional." If we all become captive consumers under federal mandate, could we not similarly argue that any shoddiness in our mandated health services is an unconstitutional burden?
Those who find such constitutional arguments unconvincing are often quick to invoke them against policies they oppose. Similarly, some of today's critics of President Obama and national healthcare brandish the Constitution as a holy document, but were silent when President George W.Bush trampled its many limitations on executive power, and even signed an expansion of Medicare.
A newfound, consistent, and lasting respect for the Constitution, across the ideological spectrum, would renew the health of our republic like nothing else.
Anthony Gregory is a research analyst at the Independent Institute and the author of a forthcoming book on habeas corpus.