By now, those who have been paying attention know the basics of the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare. We know that the court upheld the law based not on the Commerce Clause but instead on Congress’ power to tax.
So, while Congress cannot require us to buy health insurance, for example, while it cannot force us to engage in commerce in order to regulate that commerce. it can punish us if we don’t. It can tax us if we choose not to buy health insurance.
Where might this lead? To many scary places, that’s where.
Let’s say at some point liberals take over both houses of Congress and the White House, a frightening but perfectly reasonable assumption. And let’s say in their liberal wisdom they decide that for the good of the environment, for the good of the country, and for the good of the planet, everyone who drives a car should drive an electric vehicle. Because of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Congress cannot require us to buy electric cars, but it can punish us if we don’t. It can levy a tax if we choose not to go electric; if we choose to drive a car fueled by gasoline instead.
And the tax can constitutionally be as high as Congress wants to make it. In essence, the liberal lawmakers would be saying: Hey, we can’t force you to do the “right” thing, but we can make it pretty uncomfortable if you don’t. Or to put it another way, the liberal lawmakers can make us an offer we can’t refuse.
Or what if Congress decides that every house in America should have solar panels on the roof. It’s not fair, the legislators might reason, that some Americans incur the expense of being good environmental citizens while others choose to spend their money on something else. But since they can’t make us install solar panels, they could pass a law saying those who choose not to go green, will be taxed a certain (substantial) percentage of their household income.
And liberals might say that no one needs a big house. So, first, they would establish commissions and exchanges to define “big” based on the number of people living in the house, then they could pass laws that says anyone who builds a house greater than the allowed square footage, will be taxed on every foot over the limit.
How about fat people? Being overweight, the liberal lawmakers might say, is not good for the fat person and not good for anyone else in America, since being overweight contributes to diabetes and a bunch of other diseases that cost a lot of money to treat. What to do? Here’s an idea: Since Congress can’t look to the Commerce Clause in order to force anyone to join a health club, it could use its taxing authority to levy a tax on anyone who’s overweight who won’t join.
Before you say, “This is crazy, Congress would never do any of those things,” remember that a Democratically-controlled Congress has already passed a nearly 3000-page law that regulates healthcare in America – and that doesn’t count the tens of thousands of pages of rules and regulations that are right now being written. If Congress can do that, how hard would it be to pass laws that “encourage” us to buy electric cars, solar panels and join health clubs?
Whatever precedents this Supreme Court decision may set, however the decision on ObamaCare may affect the thinking of other justices in other cases, one thing is clear: The ruling sets the stage for a massive intrusion by the federal government into all of our lives. Thanks to four liberal justices and Chief Justice John Roberts, we have entered a brave new world.