#23: Obamacare and Clean Air

As you will no doubt recall, the Supreme Court in NFIB v. Sebelius (2012) held that Congress did not have the power under the Commerce Clause to uphold the individual mandate to purchase health insurance coverage. The conservatives on the Court joined in this assessment. However, the Court also decided additional major questions in this case: one about taxing and the other about spending.

Chief Justice Roberts joined with the liberal members of the Court in upholding the individual mandate as a tax. However, the Court struck down the expansion of the Medicaid program as a violation of the spending power. The Court held that this expansion was unconstitutional, even though it did not literally “force” the states to participate in the expansion.

This is a curious line-up of holdings. In two of the three major questions, the Court struck down exercises of congressional power (under both the Commerce Clause and the General Welfare Clause). The only part that was upheld was perhaps the least controversial argument (under the Taxation Clause).

Some commentators argue that this is one of the more important, if underpublicized, parts of the Court’s decision in Sebelius. For example, read Johnathan Adler’s piece over at SCOTUSblog. What does he think the implications are for the balance of power between the federal government and the states? Take special note of Adler’s point about how this might impact the Clean Air Act.

Adler delves into this issue more deeply in this post on the Property and Environmental Research Center website. Read the article. How might the Court’s decision in Sebelius encourage states to challenge the Clean Air Act’s conditional grants? Does it go beyond the impact of South Dakota v. Dole (1987)? What alternative measures could the federal government take to try to increase compliance among states?

Paper Topic #23: How might the Court’s decision in Sebelius encourage states to challenge the Clean Air Act’s conditional grants? Does it go beyond the impact of South Dakota v. Dole (1987)? What alternative measures could the federal government take to try to increase compliance among states?

Suggested Reading:  Baake, D. (2012). Federalism in the Air: Is the Clean Air Act’s “My Way or No Highway” Provision Constitutional After NFIB v. Sebelius?. Harvard Environmental Law Review Online, 1.

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