As you may have heard, the Supreme Court had its robes all in a bunch this past week trying to identify a “limiting principle” during its deliberations over whether Obamacare is a regulation of interstate commerce. That is, Justice Antonin Scalia and others have asked, if Congress can force people to buy health insurance, what’s to stop it from forcing people to buy broccoli? Or cell phones? Or automobiles? Or burial insurance?
According to observers of this week’s oral arguments, Solicitor General Donald Verilli stuttered and coughed and failed to clearly articulate a principle that would help the justices distinguish Obamacare from these Dystopian Fascist Broccoli Mandates, leading the justices to give him only a 4 out of 10 for the spokesmodel portion of the competition, although he’s hoping his mustache will give him an edge during the swimwear round. (This is how Supreme Court cases are decided, by the way. According to the media.)
So naturally, if the Supreme Court cannot distinguish between Obamacare and broccoli mandates, then Obamacare cannot stand. Broccoli mandates are weird, and the Constitution does not permit weird laws. Therefore, Obamacare is unconstitutional.
Which is kind of brilliant, if you think about it. And it got me to wondering how I might use this line of argument in my own life. I mean, if my boss can pass a rule requiring me to wear business casual attire to work, what’s to stop him from passing a rule requiring me to wear lederhosen? Nothing!! Therefore, this fascist business casual rule cannot stand. I shall henceforth be wearing Pajama Jeans to the office every day, except for casual Fridays when I will dress it down a bit and simply be wearing an adult onesie pajama.
Of course, as Matthew Yglesias and Akhil Amar point out, there are a lot of perfectly good laws that cannot be distinguished from insane ones by a clear limiting principle. For instance, if the government can tax you 25%, why not 100%? The “limiting principle,” if it can be called that, is the fact that the people passing these laws are elected officials. And, since elected officials generally like to be gainfully employed, they do not make a habit of enacting broccoli mandates or 100% tax rates.
Then again, I’m not sure how much the “well sure, Congress could do whatever it wants but we can trust that it won’t do anything horrible because it’s an elected body” argument floats. That’s kind of the whole point of the Supreme Court: to check the power of Congress. In reality, Congress is ready and willing to pass all sorts of idiotic legislation that tramples on its citizens’ rights.
Which leaves us once again stranded with the actual question posed in this case, which is simply whether Obamacare is a regulation of interstate commerce. But what fun is that debate? It’s much more entertaining to talk about broccoli mandates and adult onesies.
Photo Attribution: flickr/TheHiggsBoson