Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.
Iowa GOP declares war on health reform
Democrats’ success in passing historic health care reform legislation added yet another element to Iowa’s already heated gubernatorial contest, with two of the three men running for the Republican nomination promising they would make the fight against its enactment a priority if elected.
But legal experts say that the political rhetoric on display by opponents of health care reform doesn’t match up with the constitutional reality.
Days before Democrats were certain they had mustered the votes in the U.S. House to pass a health care bill, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bob Vander Plaats was already vowing that if elected he would invoke the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment to block it in the Hawkeye State.
Not to be outdone, state Rep. Rod Roberts, R-Carroll, who is one of Vander Plaats’ rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, filed amendments to two bills in the Iowa House aimed at blocking a federal mandate for individuals to purchase health insurance.
“If President Obama and Democrats in Washington, D.C., force health care decisions upon Iowans, I will stand up for the people of Iowa and defend our state’s sovereignty,” Roberts said. “Now is the time for action. I have a plan to defend Iowans’ constitutional rights.”
Both men are pointing to the Tenth Amendment, which says that powers not delegated to the federal government are reserved for the states, a line of argument Republicans across the country have keyed in on. They say Congress lacks the authority to compel people to purchase health insurance, or pay a tax or a fine if they do not.
Bills have been introduced in at least 36 state legislatures seeking to limit or oppose various aspects of the reform plan through laws or state constitutional amendments, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only two states, Idaho and Virginia, have enacted laws, while an Arizona constitutional amendment is seeking voter approval on the November ballot.
But while Iowa Republicans appear to be ready for health care reform to take center stage in the 2010 campaign to replace Democratic incumbent Gov. Chet Culver, constitutional scholars say their argument for state sovereignty in this realm doesn’t ring true.
Randy Barnett, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, argued in the Washington Post that the U.S. Supreme Court has “long allowed Congress to regulate and prohibit all sorts of ‘economic’ activities that are not, strictly speaking, commerce.” The question will become whether that authority extends the power of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution to regulate commerce among the states beyond “economic activity” to “economic inactivity,” or punishing those who do not purchase insurance.
But while the state sovereignty arguments may have a political impact, “none is likely to have any effect on the legislation’s constitutionality.”
“Under the 10th Amendment, if Congress enacts a law pursuant to one of the ‘powers . . . delegated to the United States by the Constitution,’ then that law is supreme, and nothing a state can do changes this,” Barnett said. “Any state power to ‘nullify’ unconstitutional federal laws has long been rejected.”
Irvine School of Law professor Erwin Chemerinsky argues that Congress clearly has the authority to pass health care reform, and mandate coverage. In a column written for Politico, he says an “unbroken line of precedents” going back 70 years has given Congress the power to regulate activities that cumulatively have an effect on interstate commerce, arguing that people not buying health insurance “unquestionably” has this effect.
Chemerinsky also adds that “Congress could justify this as an exercise of its taxing and spending power,” saying the Supreme Court has given it broad power to tax and spend for the general welfare, a term that Congress itself can define.
“There is a substantial likelihood that everyone will need medical care at some point,” he said. “A person with a communicable disease will be treated whether or not he or she is insured. A person in an automobile accident will be rushed to the hospital for treatment, whether or not he or she is insured. Congress would simply be requiring everyone to be insured to cover their potential costs to the system”
Andrew Cohen, chief legal analyst and legal editor for CBS News, compared the current state’s-rights push to arguments “offered up in vain by desperate southern leaders as a legal justification for blocking federal civil rights initiatives, including Supreme Court rulings.”
But not all legal scholars are in agreement. Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center, a think-tank on the relationships of the states and federal government, pointed to medical marijuana laws as evidence that a state can nullify a federal law. Fourteen states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes despite a prohibition in federal law that has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.