Tag Archives: commerce clause

Overturning Wickard Key to Ending Obamacare, All Other Unconstitutional Uses of the Comm

By Daniel Downs

The Supreme Court will soon hear arguments about the constitutionality of Obamacare. In many ways, the Court will decide the future of American liberty. The Justices will determine whether federal bureaucrats can dictate the purchase of consumer services and goods. The Court will also determine whether Congress and the President can continue increasing government programs and ever-increasing debt burden on American workers, business, investors, and families. In a recent program, Glen Beck compared the number of new agencies created by FDR’s New Deal to the astronomical increase of federal agencies created under Obamacare (see Beck’s video). Liberty Legal Foundation is challenging this issue and related tax code and debt escalation that will incur to the American people. More importantly, the Foundation will attempt to convince the Supreme Court to overturn the source of the problem. That problem is Wickard v Filburn that essentially handed Congress unfettered powers to enlarge federal authority over all aspects of our individual and corporate lives under the Commerce Clause as well as to ever increase the national debt.

As you can see in the chart below, the Wickard ruling opened the floodgates to federal regulations, new federal agencies, astronomical increases of new federal tax codes, federal spending, and federal debt.

The options to force Congress to limit its continued bureaucratic growth are few. One is get Congress to pass law regulating its own creation of debt producing regulations. However, the long debated balance budget legislation and tax reform along the lines of the Fair Tax or flat tax proposal have consistently been voted down. Even if Congress forced itself to balance the budget, its unaccountable growth of power and spending would merely be slowed. Congress still would not have to seek the approval of the citizens its members supposedly represent, which leads to the unlikely passage of an amendment to the Constitution to make Congress seek voter approval for debt increasing legislation. The best solution to reigning in Congress’s seemingly uncontrollable efforts to regulate our daily lives and spending too much of our money is to change how the Congress, the Executive branch and the Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause.

Let’s hope and pray that the argument to be presented by Liberty Legal Foundation lawyers convince the Supreme Court to overturn Wickard.

To learn more about Liberty Legal Foundation’s suit against Obamacare, go to http://libertylegalfoundation.org.

Affordable Care Act: Courts, Commerce and the Constitution

By Cameron Smith

Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, likely to be issued in the summer of 2012, has as much to do with the constitutional limits on the federal government as with the future of American healthcare.

While the Court will hear a number of arguments against the PPACA, the most important consideration is whether Congress exceeded the constitutional limits of its power by establishing an “individual mandate” requiring individuals to either carry acceptable health insurance or pay a penalty. The Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.”

Gradually, the interpretation and application of the Commerce Clause has been stretched past the point of common sense. For example, the Supreme Court’s 1942 Wrightwood Dairy holding found that the federal government could regulate the price of milk sold solely within the State of Illinois. The opinion effectively established that commerce need not cross state lines to be under federal jurisdiction provided that “control over intrastate transactions…is necessary and appropriate to make the regulation of the interstate commerce effective.”

Could the framers of the Constitution really have envisioned that wholly intrastate commerce could somehow be interpreted as “Commerce…among the several States?”

The most shocking example of expanded congressional power under the Commerce Clause happened only a few months after the Wrightwood Dairy case. In Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Clause allowed the federal government to regulate an Ohio farmer growing wheat on his own land for his personal consumption. The Court found that “[h]ome-grown wheat…competes with wheat in commerce” and, as such, was subject to the reach of the federal government.

Wrightwood Dairy effectively negated the “interstate” aspect of the Commerce Clause and Wickard expanded “commerce” to apply to activities never intended for the marketplace. After these cases, almost all activity that could conceivably impact interstate commerce has been upheld by the Court. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed under Congress’s Commerce Clause authority on the theory that discriminatory practices by individuals impacted interstate commerce.

Earlier this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC Circuit Court) upheld the PPACA’s individual mandate, in spite of the federal government’s inability to conceive of “any mandate to purchase a product or service in interstate commerce that would be unconstitutional” under the Commerce Clause. The court conceded that Congress has virtually limitless power to “forge national solutions to national problems no matter how local–or seemingly passive–their individual origins.”

Every American, regardless of their political inclinations on the PPACA, should be concerned about potential extensions of the DC Circuit Court’s decision in American politics. If the sole standard for determining congressional authority under the Commerce Clause is whether it addresses a national problem, then political ambition and the ability to assemble even the smallest of majorities are the only hurdles to unbridled federal control.

Consider recent national problems such as the housing crisis, automotive industry collapse, and skyrocketing energy prices. If the Commerce Clause has no real boundaries, what will stop Congress from preventing new residential construction until the stock of available homes is absorbed by the marketplace? Rather than the infamous “Cash for Clunkers” program or tax incentives for “green” fuels, what can prevent Congress from simply requiring Americans to turn in their old F-150s and buy new, fuel efficient automobiles?

The PPACA’s individual mandate also provides legislators with a politically expedient tool to avoid legislative transparency on the politically sensitive subjects of taxation and spending. The tax penalty associated with the individual mandate is effectively a mechanism to encourage the diversion of income from individuals directly to health insurers without passing through the government. The passage of the PPACA would have been highly unlikely if the individual mandate had been a national tax increase where the proceeds were promptly sent to insurance companies to pay for coverage. If the mandate is deemed constitutional, legislators will likely create similar income transfer provisions for other policy priorities.

Upholding the PPACA’s individual mandate could be the final blow for any remaining constitutional limitations on Congress’s Commerce Clause power. An individual’s right to avoid engaging in commerce is one of the last bastions of refuge from congressional control. Allowing Congress to conscript citizens into the stream of commerce in order to regulate their activities represents the height of federal encroachment not only into the domain of the states but also into the lives of individuals.

Constitutional limits on federal power are much more than archaic hurdles to “get things done.” America’s Founding Fathers endured the abuses of a controlling government’s power and specifically developed the Constitution as a safeguard against the repetition of those evils. The Court must restore those limits if the dangers of tyranny appreciated by the Founders are to be avoided.

Cameron Smith is General Counsel for the Alabama Policy Institute, a non-partisan, non-profit research and education organization dedicated to the preservation of free markets, limited government and strong families, which are indispensable to a prosperous society.