SCOTUS: The Heath Care Debate
California Lawyer

SCOTUS: The Heath Care Debate

August 2012

In their historic decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court laid out their vastly different readings of the law.

For the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
"People, for reasons of their own, often fail to do things that would be good for them or good for society. Those failures - joined with the similar failures of others - can readily have a substantial effect on interstate commerce. Under the Government's logic, that authorizes Congress to use its commerce power to compel citizens to act as the Government would have them act."

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax. Because the Constitution permits such a tax, it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom or fairness."

Joining in parts of Chief Roberts's opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:
"The inevitable yet unpredictable need for medical care and the guarantee that emergency care will be provided when required are conditions nonexistent in other markets. That is so of the market for cars, and of the market for broccoli as well."

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
"If Congress can reach out and command even those furthest removed from an interstate market to participate in the market, then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton's words, "the hideous monster whose devouring jaws ... spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane."

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