But after analyzing the 193 pages of opinions from the court, I contend that – while I do not agree with the ultimate result – there was a silver lining for those who believe in the principles of limited government. For the first time since 1942, the Supreme Court held that even when Congress is otherwise attempting to regulate commerce, there are enforceable limits to the Commerce Clause power. And for the first time since the New Deal, the court has found a limit on Congress’s spending power – a power many thought was virtually unlimited under the Constitution.
From the beginning of Virginia’s challenge, I maintained that the health care cases were about liberty, not about health care. We argued that the Constitution did not permit Congress – under the guise of regulating commerce – to order a citizen to buy something. A majority of the court agreed with our position. Writing for a majority, Chief Justice Roberts recognized that
“The Framers gave Congress the power to regulate commerce, not to compel it, and for over 200 years, both our decisions and Congress’s actions have reflected this understanding. There is no reason to depart from that understanding now.” [Emphasis in the original.]
In its decision, the court affirmed that the Commerce Clause only allows Congress to regulate people who are currently engaged in commercial activity. It does not reach those who are not engaged in commerce, even if those very same people are likely to engage in commerce in the future.
In this way, the court affirmed that there ARE constitutional limits to Congress’s commerce power and explicitly adopted the activity/inactivity distinction that opponents of the law had championed and that liberal commentators had ridiculed.
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