Acton Institute Powerblog

Initial Thoughts on the ‘Obamacare’ Decision

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Obviously many people are disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling today. The decision was rather surprising for a number of legal and political reasons.

Writing about the HHS mandate in an Acton commentary in January, Dr. Donald P. Condit pointed to the moral threat that his health care legislation poses. Nothing has changed with today’s Supreme Court ruling. Condit wrote:

With the passing of time, it has become painfully obvious how relativistic and clouded are this administration’s sense of ethics.  The subsequent threat to our liberty is crystal clear and faith leaders representing diverse traditions are speaking out against the White House’s assault on religious freedom in the most forceful way.

It is obvious that  ‘Obamacare’ strikes against every aspect of Acton’s Core Principles. You can see more related to that point on Acton’s Health Care page.

On a policy level, it was frustrating for several reasons. This decision grants government the license to impose itself in realms that are rightly left to individuals to decide. One of the key components that allows markets to function well, increase wealth, and combat the conditions of poverty that stifle human dignity and flourishing, is that the market is fundamentally a system of voluntary transactions.  And that includes the decision to avoid entering a market at all.

It was also disappointing in the sense that the waters have been considerably muddied in what limits the federal government must abide by. From the Dissent, in which Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito joined:

The Court’s disposition, invented and atextual as it is, does not even have the merit of avoiding constitutional difficulties. It creates them. The holding that the Individual Mandate is a tax raises a difficult constitutional question (what is a direct tax?) that the Court resolves  with inadequate deliberation.

There is a very slight silver lining though, is that five justices rejected the notion that Congress has the power under the Commerce Clause to regulate your inactivity. It cannot compel you to act under the Commerce Clause. And while there is no obvious limit to what the court has granted Congress the ability to force you to do with its taxing power, it at least forces politicians to confront the truth when they pass laws.

From this point on, going forward any attempt by Congress to force you to do something when you would prefer to be left alone will be a tax. And I think a majority of Americans are still opposed to new taxes, especially taxes they might have to pay. And maybe soon people will remember what former Chief Justice John Marshall said in McCulloch v. Maryland, “The power to tax, is the power to destroy.” If we don’t have any limits on the power to tax, we may find our selves compelled to do a lot more at the behest of the government, or be destroyed.

Thoughts from others

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have objections to the ACA here (corrected, thanks for the correction, commenter “Drew”)
  • Focus on the Family’s response to the ruling can be found here
  • The Mackinac Center describes the impacts the health care decision will have on you
  • Heritage describes some of the silver linings for the ruling
  • National Review, among their many discussions on the subject, calls the decision “Robert’s Folly”

John MacDhubhain Recent alumnus of Michigan State, future student of George Mason


  • Drew

    You’re misrepresenting the Bishops.
    “…the United
    States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) did not participate in these
    cases and took no position on the specific questions presented to the Court…”

    They have objections to the the Act, yes, but not to the ruling.

    • Sorry about that Drew. It was an unintended mistake, but you’re absolutely right and I have edited the post accordingly.

  • Pingback: The Bishops Remind Us, the ACA Needs Repairs, Not Repeal UPDATED()

  • Roger McKinney

    I expected a surprise from the court, but not to be surprised by the sheer dishonesty exhibited by chief justice Roberts. The only honest way to interpret any document is by original intent. Aristotle taught us that and few people would disagree when interpreting any communication other than the Bible and the Constitution. Politicians are always complaining that their words have been taken out of context.

    What I have heard of justice Roberts’ opinion shows him to be a very dishonest person. He admits that he can find nothing in the Constitution to defend such a grab of power by the government. But he insists that the court has an obligation to use every means possible to keep from overturning laws. And if being dishonest works, then he will be dishonest. So he redefined the individual mandate to buy insurance as a tax, even though Congress considered making it a tax and rejected it. He then invoked the general welfare clause, which Congress has always used to skirt the limitations the Constitution places on government.

    I shouldn’t have been surprised. We haven’t had a government or supreme court that would follow the Constitution in over a century. I was fooled by the appointment of Roberts by Bush. I expected better of him.

    Isn’t it sad that the Constitution is a very clear and understandable document, but the supreme court has butchered the law so badly over the centuries that no one can predict how the court will decide an issue and the decision is almost always a surprise.