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Posted at 10:28 AM ET, 01/11/2011

The Commerce Clause and your vest

By Ezra Klein

It's always hard to say what one Supreme Court case means for another Supreme Court case. But as Warren Richey reports, the court -- to the dismay of Justices Scalia and Thomas, both of whom dissented -- just turned down a suit that would've given them an excellent opportunity to more narrowly interpret the Commerce Clause, if that was something they were interested in doing:

In a case with potential implications for legal challenges to the Obama health-care reform law, the US Supreme Court on Monday refused to examine whether Congress overstepped its authority when it made it a federal crime for a convicted felon to possess a bullet-proof vest.

The key question in Alderman v. US was whether there are limits to Congress’s ability under the Constitution’s commerce clause to outlaw a local, intrastate activity like wearing body armor...Had the high court taken up the Alderman case, it would have signaled a willingness by the justices to closely examine what limits, if any, apply to congressional power under the commerce clause. ...

Thomas said the lower court decision in the Alderman case “could very well remove any limit on the commerce power.”

The legal question with the individual mandate, of course, is whether you feel it exceeds the powers granted to the government under the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Commerce Clause. I think it's hard to argue that regulating a national health-care system is a less appropriate use of federal power than deciding what people can wear when they walk to the grocery, but so be it. As I've noted before, feelings on the individual mandate tend to turn on party and overall opinion of the health-care law, and it's entirely possible that the court's members will find themselves with much stronger feelings on those questions than on bullet-proof vests.

By Ezra Klein  | January 11, 2011; 10:28 AM ET
Categories:  Legal  
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Comments

People should never forget that real health depends how well you take care of yourself and not what health insurance you carry but I agree health insurance is important for every one. Search "Wise Health Insurance" online for dollar a day insurance plans.

Posted by: josephpatel | January 11, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm skeptical that this really signals anything important for the ACA cases winding their way through the courts system. There are a lot of reasons not to take a case which might have little to nothing to do with what the majority of the court expects to do with the ACA. It's possible that Roberts or Kennedy are looking for a holding more narrow than Scalia and Thomas would like, and deciding this case first would complicate those negotiations. Who knows, but the Court turns down a lot of cases per year. On the other hand, it's almost impossible to imagine that they won't take a case on the ACA sometime in the somewhat near term.

Posted by: MosBen | January 11, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

This isn't relevant to the mandate because if someone has taken the action to become a felon, of course they can be regulated, but that doesn't mean there's any precedent for regulating inaction (the failure to buy health insurance.)

Posted by: michaelh81 | January 11, 2011 6:41 PM | Report abuse

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