Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The OTHER big ACA case being argued today (albeit not at the Supreme Court) concerns the statute’s alleged Disestablishment Clause

Obamacare faces two separate court challenges on Tuesday, but only one could deliver a major knockout blow to the law.

The case getting the most attention is tomorrow’s Supreme Court challenge to the health care law’s requirement for employers to provide birth control to their workers. At the same time Tuesday morning, the District of Columbia’s Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether Obamacare allows premium subsidies to flow through federal-run health insurance exchanges. That case has been called “the greatest existential threat” to the survival of the health care law by one of Obamacare’s staunchest supporters.

The contraception case is big, but another challenge could really hurt Obamacare, Jason Millman, Wonkblog, Washington Post, yesterday

Ah. And to think that so many people think the big Obamacare cases to be argued in a federal court today are the contraceptive-mandate ones.  But not regular AB readers! That’s because y’all read this post of mine and then this one.  And you remember those posts!

But to refresh your memories about the details, I’ll quote Millman further:

The law’s opponents argue that Congress never authorized subsidies in federal-run exchanges, and they claim this was done on purpose. They say Congress wanted to incentivize states to run their own exchanges, an option that only 14 states and the District of Columbia chose in 2014.

The law’s supporters argue that the law doesn’t differentiate between federal-run and state-run exchanges, so people should be able to receive subsidies no matter who’s administering the insurance marketplaces. Further, they say the broad purpose of the law is to expand access to affordable insurance regardless of who runs the exchange.

There are four pending cases in federal court challenging the subsidies. In Tuesday’s case, Halbig v. Sebelius, a lower federal court in January upheld the IRS rule allowing subsidies in federal-run exchanges.

“The Court finds that the plain text of the statute, the statutory structure, and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges,” District Court Judge Paul Friedman wrote in his decision.

Well, of course, Judge Friedman found that the plain text of the statute, the statutory structure, and the statutory purpose make clear that Congress intended to make premium tax credits available on both state-run and federally-facilitated Exchanges. Sure, he’s a Reagan appointee, but I published the first of my two posts deconstructing The Antidisestablishmentarianism Theory of Obamacare Illegality seven weeks before he issued his opinion agreeing that the ACA does not in fact have a disestablishment clause.  And since he’s undoubtedly an avid AB reader, he didn’t even have to read the government’s brief deconstructing the disestablishment-clause theory.  Well, maybe he did anyway, but he already knew that that clause in the ACA did not really disestablish the statute’s federal tax credits in 36 states.

So he wrote:

Looking only at the language of 26 U.S.C. § 36B(b)-(c), isolated from the cross-referenced text of 42 U.S.C. § 18031, 42 U.S.C. § 18041, and 42 U.S.C. § 300gg-91(d)(21), the plaintiffs’ argument may seem the more intuitive one. Why would Congress have inserted the phrase “established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]” if it intended to refer to Exchanges created by a state or by HHS? But defendants provide a plausible and persuasive answer: Because the ACA takes a state-established Exchange as a given and directs the Secretary of HHS to establish such Exchange and bring it into operation if the state does not do so. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 18031(b)-(d), 18041(c). In other words, even where a state does not actually establish an Exchange, the federal government can create “an Exchange established by the State under [42 U.S.C. § 18031]” on behalf of that state.  [Italics in original.]

Friedman’s opinion, which gets into the “Chevron deference” doctrine–don’t ask; I might tell you–illustrates just how hypocritical it would be for the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to buy these plaintiffs’ argument once this case (or one of the other three being litigated in other regional federal courts) arrives there.

Which is not to say that that is necessarily a determining impediment to their doing so; we all know better by now than to think that it.  But I do think there is a point at which this type of thing becomes so clear that it penetrates the awareness of enough people to be of fairly widespread concern.  And although the justices themselves as yet seem unconcerned, there may come a time, fairly soon, when they conclude that that unconcern is untenable as a matter of social acceptance.  Then again, I’m not sure they will care.

 

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What to look for in tomorrow’s Supreme Court arguments in the Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood ACA-contraception-coverage cases

[The] conception of corporate personhood has profound and beneficial economic consequences. It means that the obligations the law imposes on the corporation, such as liability for harms caused by the firm’s operations, are not generally extended to the shareholders. Limited liability protects the owners’ personal assets, which ordinarily can’t be taken to pay the debts of the corporation. This creates incentives for investment, promotes entrepreneurial activity, and encourages corporate managers to take the risks necessary for growth and innovation. That’s why the Supreme Court, in business cases, has held that “incorporation’s basic purpose is to create a legally distinct entity, with legal rights, obligations, powers, and privileges different from those of the natural individuals who created it, who own it, or whom it employs.”

In recent constitutional law cases, however, the justices seem to have forgotten this basic principle of corporate law. In Citizens United, the court effectively held that corporations enjoyed the same free speech rights as ordinary individuals. Contrary to popular belief, however, the court did not base that holding on the idea that corporations are people. Instead, the justices said that corporations are “associations of citizens”—and those citizens who make up the corporation have constitutional rights.

Yes, Corporations Are People. And that’s why Hobby Lobby should lose at the Supreme Court., Adam Winkler, Slate, Mar. 17

Among the inundation of articles about Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius in the months since the Supreme Court agreed to hear these cases–one, Hobby Lobby, in which the corporation won in the lower appellate court, the other, Conestoga Wood, in which the corporation lost–there are very among the ones I’ve read that make what I think is the critical point about these cases: the critical interplay between the Citizens United opinion and these two cases, and the reason why. It’s a point I made (or tried to) in a post on AB last fall, but Winkler is a constitutional law prof. at UCLA and, according to his mini-bio at the end of his slate article, he’s writing a book about the constitutional rights of corporations, so I was happy to read the paragraphs I quote above in an article published on a mainstream-media website.

For all the jokes about corporations attending church or being bar mitzvahed–yes, I plead guilty, but writing that post was so much fun!–the fact is that the corporations in those cases claim not that they are people but instead that they derive their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion not from the state’s grant of corporate status but rather from the constitutional rights of its shareholders.  This argument–that corporations’ constitutional rights are derivative of their shareholders’ constitutional rights and therefore are not limited to, say, protecting the property that the corporation itself owns or to the ability to enter into business contracts on behalf of itself–comes courtesy of Citizens United, pure and simple.  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, unlike Citizens United, are for-profit corporations.  They both also are closely held, rather than publicly traded, corporations, and in both cases, the shareholders (members of a single family, in each case) are parties to the lawsuit along with the corporations themselves.

Mitt Romney’s ill-fated pronouncement that corporations are people, my friend, was funny, but it actually was an inarticulate adoption of Citizens United’s actual declaration: that corporations are “associations of citizens” whose members, as human individuals, have the familiar panoply of constitutional rights. One obvious problem with this derivative-constitutional-rights thing, though–albeit a problem that the Citizens United majority didn’t acknowledge–is that the individual shareholders of at least publicly-traded corporations don’t all hold the same political views.  Some shareholders are shareholders by virtue of participation in  large mutual funds, and others by dint of ownership in pension funds.  Some of them even in public-union pension funds!

Then again, at a recent oral argument at the Court in a case that, although it’s not an ACA  or religion case, I believe has implications for these two cases, Samuel Alito suggested that public unions are unconstitutional as a violation of … something. (Of his political views, I think.) If he prevails on this when that case, Harris v. Quinn, is decided, that would eliminate the problem of Democrats who are contributors to public union pension funds having Republican CEOs of mega-corporations serve as proxies to derivatively exercise the pension-fund contributor’s First Amendment speech rights. But the fact will remain that Democrats–who, contrary to Fox News reports, are people, my friend–have been known to own stock in large corporations, directly or through mutual funds or pension funds or some such.*

A seminal part of Citizens United, in other words, is its conflation of the CEO’s constitutional rights with those of the corporation’s–er, association’s–other citizens. The corporation itself may not be a person, my friend, but it derives its First Amendment rights from one (only one) of its citizen members.  Or, at least, only that one member serves as proxy on the derivative rights. (If the CEO is not a citizen, he or she can still serve as proxy for human members who are.) But what the plaintiffs are arguing in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood is that these corporations derive their constitutional rights from all of these associations’ members: the family members who comprise the entire membership of this association of people.

The title of the Winkler article says that corporations are people.  By which he means, they are indeed associations of citizens.  Associations of citizens (and, probably, non-citizens) that, for purposes of healthcare insurance coverage, include the corporation’s employees. What Citizens United means in saying that corporations are associations of citizens is that the shareholders comprise an association of citizens whose proxy, for constitutional-rights purposes, is (apparently) its CEO.  But Citizens United did not address whether this association of citizens is necessarily limited to shareholders.  If corporations have constitutional rights derived from its individual members because they are associations of citizens, and if the association of citizens includes, by definition, employees as well as shareholders (no green-card holders or foreign shareholders allowed!)–and under Citizens United, there is no reason why it shouldn’t–then the act of incorporation itself confers derivatively to the corporation the constitutional rights of its employees.  Who have the constitutional right to have the same benefits of the ACA as similarly situated employees of other corporations.

Okay, my eve-of-oral-argument hunch is that the court will back away somewhat from its Citizens United claim that corporate CEOs can, in the name of the corporation, access the constitutional rights of citizen-association members.  The Court will find some way to segregate speech rights from other constitutional rights, and will rule against the plaintiffs in these two cases.  That’s because, well, apparently a slew of other associations of citizens–e.g., the business community at large–are making it known, including in amicus briefs to the court, that they’re downright scared to death of this end-to-the-corporate-veil/corporations-are-groups-of-citizens (who can be held individually responsible for their for-profit association’s liabilities) thing.

Or maybe they’re just scared to death at the thought of ExxonMobil or Amazon marauding through their towns bearing AK-47s in exercise of their derivative Second Amendment rights. It could be time for some for-profit associations of citizens to pray.

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*Paragraph edited after publication to correct a cut-and-paste error and to add the name of the referenced Supreme Court case, Harris v. Quinn.

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Oh, dear. Another loopy challenge to yet another ACA provision, this one concerning the Independent Payment Advisory Board.*

A legal-news blog I read mentions an article published today on the National Review Online aspirationally titled “A Strike at the Heart of Obamacare” and subtitled “A case against IPAB is heard by the Ninth Circuit — and eventually by the Supreme Court?”  I don’t normally read the National Review and am not familiar with the article’s author, Quin Hillyer.  But the article discusses in frenzied fashion a case that will be argued on appeal next week at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal appellate court based in San Francisco, that hears appeals in federal cases from west-coast and several mountain states.

I did not know what IPAB stands for, so I clicked the link to the article in order to find out, and learned that the IPAB is “that monstrosity called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a 15-member body invested with virtually unreviewable, plenipotentiary powers.” Glad I did.

The case to be heard on appeal next week, Coons v. Lew, was filed by the Goldwater Institute and several medical practitioners, and challenges the constitutionality of the section of the ACA that creates and establishes the powers of the IPAB, the ACA provision that Hillyer says is “the law’s most obnoxious violations of Madisonian principle and essential constitutional structure.”  Which, best as I can tell from what he says about the provision, absolves the law from any obnoxious violations of Madisonian principle and essential constitutional structure.  I’ll take his word for it.

Coons, Hillyer fumes in dismay, is the only Obamacare case that has included a challenge to the IPAB, and the trial-court judge, whose ruling the plaintiffs are appealing, gave that challenge short shrift.  Why only one case making that argument?! And, why short shrift?! I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that one reason is that one of the two grounds for constitutional challenge–that Congress can’t delegate specific rulemaking functions to executive-branch agencies, because that constitutes a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers–was rejected by the Supreme Court initially many decades ago when certain New Deal legislation was at issue, and that in 1984 the Supreme Court, in an opinion called Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., created what is known as the Chevron doctrine, giving executive-branch agencies broad “deference” to promulgate “regulations,” i.e., sets of substantive (as well as procedural) laws about which the agency has specific expertise.  Which suited conservatives fine during the Reagan and various Bush administrations, which, courtesy of that doctrine, had virtual carte blanche to undermine, say, the Environmental Protection Act or the Securities Exchange Act. But conservatives are having second thoughts about the wonders of the Chevron doctrine these days.

The current Supreme Court Republican majority, of course, shows no inhibition about switching sides in light of new circumstances, such as a Democratic White House.  The Chevron doctrine was too broad, but only very recently has the Court shown interest in narrowing it–in a way that probably would allow the doctrine to be broadened again, during the next Republican administration.

So the Chevron doctrine alone probably doesn’t explain why only the Goldwater Institute and a few Western-state doctors are the only ones to challenge the IPAB and questions related to review of the Board’s payment recommendations. And I haven’t read the trial judge’s ruling, and in fact was unaware of the case until I read Hillyer’s article.  But I’ll go way out on a limb here and suggest another sorta large problem with the challenge to that section of the ACA.  Whatever the Board’s plenipotentiary powers actually are, and whatever “plenipotentiary” means–I actually have no idea what the Board’s powers are, but the title of the agency is after all the Independent Payment Advisory Board, so presumably it’s an advisory board–what is clear is that neither the Medicare Act nor the ACA requires healthcare providers to accept Medicare insurance.  These healthcare professionals are no more required by law to accept Medicare patients than they are to accept patients who have insurance through one or another private company, or who have only catastrophic insurance, or Medicaid, or no insurance.

Their claim, in other words, is ridiculous.  But it does have the advantage of carrying with it the Madisonian Freedom/Liberty tag, a label that the Koch right confers upon anything it wishes, because that surely will gain the attention of the Fab Five’s law clerks once the Court is asked to hear the case.  Normally, they attach this label to anything concerning property rights or wealth or income accrued or to be accrued, actually or ostensibly, through the private sector, but here they’re branching out.  Here, they’re claiming a Madisonian constitutional right by the private healthcare industry to Medicare payments set by the private healthcare industry.

Farm subsidies and Medicare payment levels set by the healthcare industry forever! That was Madison’s motto.

Keep your government hands off my Medicare payment levels!  Who knew Madison was an M.D.?

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*Post edited slightly for clarity after initial posting.

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Hobby Lobby’s Religion Lobby – [Appended]

About two weeks ago, Dan emailed me with a link to a New York Times article titled “A Flood of Suits Fights Coverage of Birth Control,” by Times reporter Ethan Bronner, published that day. The article began:

In a flood of lawsuits, Roman Catholics, evangelicals and Mennonites are challenging a provision in the new health care law that requires employers to cover birth control in employee health plans — a high-stakes clash between religious freedom and health care access that appears headed to the Supreme Court.
In recent months, federal courts have seen dozens of lawsuits brought not only by religious institutions like Catholic dioceses but also by private employers ranging from a pizza mogul to produce transporters who say the government is forcing them to violate core tenets of their faith. Some have been turned away by judges convinced that access to contraception is a vital health need and a compelling state interest. Others have been told that their beliefs appear to outweigh any state interest and that they may hold off complying with the law until their cases have been judged. New suits are filed nearly weekly.

Dan asked me if I could put the article’s contents into perspective.  I could, and I did.  I responded:

Yeah, this is part and parcel of the Liberty U.-type ACA litigation that we exchanged emails about back in late Nov.

The new NYT article discusses the Hobby Lobby case, which is different than the Liberty U. case in an important respect: Hobby Lobby is a for-profit corporation, albeit a closely-held one.  

The bottom line is that I expect that for-profit corporations, even small, closely-held ones like Hobby Lobby, will not be allowed an exemption from compliance with parts of the ACA on religious grounds.  The purpose of for-profit corporations is, well, profit, not the advancement of a religious cause or the practice of religion.  And corporations are people only for monetary purposes–accepting money and spending money.  At least as of now.

The two stated grounds for the corporations-are-people-too-my-friend right to First Amendment free-speech rights in Citizens United were (1) that the members of a corporation or union are united by a common political, ideological or monetary goal that is central to the existence of the nonprofit or for-profit corporation or union, and which the money–er, speech–addresses; and (2) that the general public has an interest in hearing more political speech, not less.  (At least as long as the speech is what the CEO, if not necessarily a majority of the shareholders, wants to say, and the spending balance–corporate vs. union–favors the Republican Party.  

Unless Justice Kennedy & Co. think more religion on the part of for-profit corporations that sell housewares and crafts is in the public interest, because lamps, picture frames and art supplies are people too, my friend, and because more religion by lamps, picture frames and art supplies is in the public, then Hobby Lobby probably will end up having to comply with the parts of the ACA that violate the lamps’, picture frames’, and art supplies’ religious beliefs.  But, who knows?

I thought of that email exchange this morning after reading Bill Keller’s opinion piece about Hobby Lobby case in today’s NYT.  The title: The Conscience of a Corporation.

Kudos to the Times’ headline writer.

Hobby Lobby’s lobbyists, referenced in the title of this post, are, of course, the company’s lawyers.

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UPDATE: Reader J.Goodwin wrote in the Comments thread:

Hobby Lobby is relatively well-known (at least in Oklahoma) for their religious persuasion. They are closed on religious holidays and Sundays, etc.

I don’t think that matters, but it’s not like this is a company that has never held itself off as having religious owners or religious anything.

It’s not a straight up cash grab, it’s at least based on a history of some sort of religious values.

Obama never should have offered any exemption on this stuff. It’s time for religions to be treated like the corporations they are.

I responded:

One of the articles I read about the lawsuit said that Hobby Lobby reportedly treats its employees well, paying the lowest-level ones twice the minimum wage.  I had never heard of Hobby Lobby until the fall of 2011, when I was shopping in a strip mall where one was located and decided to stop in.  I didn’t even know it was a chain until last month when I read about the lawsuit, and I knew nothing at all about its owners before that.  

But I do know now that it’s a closely-held corporation, the shareholders all members of one family, and that the family is genuinely religious and also apparently generous.  There’s really no question but that their position on the contraceptives insurance matter is entirely and genuinely based on their deep and longstanding religious beliefs; they are not using their beliefs as a pretext.

But running a business is not practicing religion. And the law at issue concerns running a business, not practicing religion.  

That said, I didn’t intend by the title of this post to be snide or nasty, but instead to make a point.

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Matthew Yglesias, Slate’s Boy With a Little Curl

Lost in the shuffle here is the question of what it is Romney is denying he’s responsible for. Stipulate that Romney somehow had nothing to do with running a company of which he was the CEO and sole shareholder. Does he think, in retrospect, that his subordinates did something wrong by offshoring jobs? Clearly he didn’t, which highlights the absurdity of his claims not to have been responsible. It’s true that he wasn’t running the country [sic] on a day-to-day basis, but he really was titular CEO and had Bain been doing something he deemed outrageous he could and should have stepped in to stop them. But he doesn’t believe that. And what’s more, all indications are that Barack Obama also doesn’t think Bain was doing anything wrong. [Emphasis in original.] As president he’s made no moves to make it illegal for companies to shift production work abroad and has publicly associated himself with a wide range of American firms—from GE to Apple and beyond—who’ve done just that to varying extents. And we all remember what happened to Obama’s promise to renegotiate NAFTA after taking office, right?

In my view both Obama and Romney are quite right about this. I’ll say more on this during the workweek, but one quick test is do you think there’s something immoral about the fact that Toyota and BMW have manufacturing facilities located in the United States? Should the Japanese and German governments be stopping Japan- and Germany-based firms from locating production offshore?

I posted a comment to it, saying:

Well, when Obama starts claiming that one of his key qualifications for reelection is that he’s helped create jobs in China—or when Romney starts saying that Bain invested in companies that specialized in moving jobs overseas in exchange for promises by German and Japanese companies to open, or keep, factories in this country—Yglesias’s equivalency argument might be less ridiculous. 

One of Obama’s spot-on arguments against Romney’s claim that his Bain experience was a successful jobs-creation experience rather than merely a successful wealth-creation-for-investors experience is that there’s a huge difference between experience in creating wealth for private investors, by any means available and at whatever expense to others, and creating good for the country’s overall economy and general welfare.  This offshoring issue is a classic case in point. Setting aside whether the federal government has the legal authority to prohibit private companies from offshoring—and I don’t think the government has any such legal authority, except in certain limited national security or foreign policy circumstances—there’s an obvious critical difference between not trying to stop this country’s companies from offshoring, for fear of retribution by other countries’ companies, similar to trying to avoid a tariff war, and aggressively aiding offshoring by American companies irrespective of any up-side for the general American economy. 

Add to that that, as several other commenters have pointed out, the German and Japanese companies that offshore in this country do so mainly in manufacturing products or parts for products that will be sold in North America, mostly in this country.  GM, Ford, Chrysler and some U.S. auto-components manufacturing companies have factories in Europe, but the products and components made there are sold in Europe.  Like the German and Japanese auto companies that Yglesias equates with Bain’s offshoring-specialist companies, the American auto-industry companies continue to make the parts and cars sold in their home country in factories in their home country. 

Which, of course, would not be the case any longer had the Bush and Obama administrations taken Romney’s advice and let Detroit fail.

That said—and for the same reasons—Yglesias is wrong in saying that unless Romney thinks there’s something wrong with offshoring, it’s absurd for him to deny responsibility for Bain’s investments in offshoring-specialist companies during the three-year period beginning in early 1999.  If in fact Romney was no longer associated with Bain during that period, he would have every right to correct the record, whether or not he thinks there was anything wrong with what Bain did during that time.  But the question of whether Bain did anything wrong in investing in offshoring-specialist companies—during the period between 1993 and 1999, when (at least as I understand it) it apparently was doing so at Romney’s clear behest, or during the following three years—depends on what is meant by “wrong.” 

It was not illegal.  But many voters think that, while it clearly was helpful to Bain’s investors and to Romney (who has continued since then to receive large payments from Bain), it was not helpful to the larger American economy and to the middle class.  It did not create jobs in this country; instead, it eliminated them.  And Romney is running for president virtually entirely on his claimed credential of being a jobs creator and of knowing how to create jobs—in America.

I’m hesitant to be too critical of Yglesias for his rather obvious conflations here.  He was, after all, not just the first pundit but also one of the very few even yet to point out a stunning, absolutely jaw-droppingproposition of law stated by four of the nine Supreme Court justices in their joint dissent late last month in the Affordable Care Act case, the part of the dissent concerning the issue of the severability of the part of the Medicaid provision in the Act that the Court’s majority struck down, in which the dissenters, while claiming that the majority was rewriting the Medicaid provision in order to save much of it, wanted to rewrite, rather dramatically, the Constitution’s separation of powers between Congress and the Court. Only four hours after the release of the opinion, when almost no one except the journalists covering the Court had yet read the dissent, Yglesias wrote:

As I’ve noticed previously, there’s lots of other stuff in the Affordable Care Act besides the new regulation of insurance companies, including a move to deregulate dental services. So I was curious to see why the dissenters in the Supreme Court thought that not only was the individual mandate and the provisions related to the individual mandate unconstitutional, but also all this other stuff.

The answer is that they appear to have made up a new Christmas Tree Doctrine under which legitimate acts of Congress are held null and void if Antonin Scalia thinks they were part of some kind of unseemly horse-trading:

Some provisions, such as requiring chain restaurants to display nutritional content, appear likely to operate as Congress intended, but they fail the second test for severability. There is no reason to believe that Congress would have enacted them independently. The Court has not previously had occasion to consider severability in the context of an omnibus enactment like the ACA, which includes not only many provisions that are ancillary to its central provisions but also many that are entirely unrelated—hitched on because it was a quick way to get them passed despite opposition, or because their proponents could exact their enactment as the quid pro quo for their needed support. When we are confronted with such a so called “Christmas tree,” a law to which many nongermane ornaments have been attached, we think the proper rule must be that when the tree no longer exists the ornaments are superfluous. We have no reliable basis for knowing which pieces of the Act would have passed on their own. It is certain that many of them would not have, and it is not a proper function of this Court to guess which.

That all seems fine except I would have thought it was the prelude to the opposite ruling. It’s not the proper function of the court to guess why different provisions were enacted, just to rule on the constitutionality of laws. Since there’s plainly no constitutional problem with regulating interstate chain restaurants, the law is the law until Congress repeals the law. Instead, Justices Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas have decided that rather than pick and choose it would be better to strike everything.

This is far, far more newsworthy than the teensy bit of attention it has received suggests.  Four Supreme Court justices think legislative logrolling is improper and that therefore the Court can strike down full pieces of legislation that a majority of justices don’t like whenever they decide that some provision, however small, in the full piece of legislation is unconstitutional.  After all, y’know, maybe the rest of the legislation would not have been enacted without the quid pro quo votes.  Presumably, this also would apply to state laws as well as to federal laws—but, of course, as with federal laws, only to laws that the conservatives don’t like.

I’d been meaning to write about this truly radical part of the dissent in the ACA case, but hadn’t gotten around to it.  Now I have.

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John Roberts and Elena Kagan: Mirror Images of Each Other

The second biggest surprise of the day, after the survival of the Affordable Care Act, is that we’ve never really gotten over our collective crush on John Roberts. How else to explain today’s outpouring of praise, not merely for the decision but for the man himself, for his statesmanship and judicial modesty? All these years, it now appears, we’ve held it in our hearts; we’ve written it in our diaries, remembering every one of those sweet nothings he once whispered about “common ground” and “humility.” No, we never really gave up on Roberts. Not during that long judicial bender he took with the boys—Nino, Clarence, Tony, and Sam; not during the Citizens United argument, when he called the government “big brother”; not when he swept away a century’s worth of campaign finance regulations. So complete is our swoon, in the afterglow of the ACA ruling, that Bob Shrum has written that if Roberts had been Chief Justice in 2000, Bush v. Gore might have gone the other way.

To which I posted the following comment:

I write on legal and political issue issues for a left-of-center blog and have indicated there that I detest and really fear John Roberts because of his deeply diabolical nature and his checklist of ‘80s-era Federalist Society things-to-do.   Linda Greenhouse has written several columns, two or three of them within the last few months, highlighting those two quintessential John Roberts traits.  But Greenhouse, and I, predicted that Roberts would save the ACA because the case is so high-profile and the grounds for striking down the statute so utterly artificial that it would place more public scrutiny on the types of things he and his cadre normally get away with with virtually no public awareness.  I don’t think he did what he did out of a sense of statesmanship, nor in order to gut the Commerce Clause; I think the Commerce Clause ruling will have almost no practical effect, and he could have done the same thing with it simply by joining the other four conservatives in a 5-4 ruling striking down the ACA. 

I think he’s, in a way, the mirror image of Elena Kagan, who in high-profile cases usually votes liberal but who, best as I can tell, almost never goes out on a limb for the “nobody” “cert” petitioner and actually fights to get a “cert grant,” as Sotomayor does, and who I’d bet doesn’t even vote very often to hear such cases.  Her priorities seem to be her own public image and being buddies with the “in” crowd on the Court, whereas Roberts’ priority is making as many dramatic changes to the law as he can, but doing so as much under the public’s radar as possible.  (I also think Kagan is a bit naïve on some issues because of her unfamiliarity with them—see, e.g.: federal habeas review of state-court convictions—and fairly easily snowed.)

So I agree with Ken Houghton in his post below that John Roberts is not the friend of progressives.  I disagree with Ken, though, that Roberts has set up some trap through which he will later orchestrate the striking down of the ACA as a violation of equal protection because of the way in which the Medicaid expansion is administered (if I understand Ken correctly) is nil.  Roberts ended his opinion with a statement saying that the proper manner in which to determine the ultimate fate of the ACA is through the political process, not the judicial process—and I think he means it.  There are two parts of Roberts’ opinion—the part concerning Congress’s regulatory powers under the Commerce Clause and the part concerning Congress’s power to enact federal-state partnership legislation a la Medicaid—that raise serious concerns about the impact on otherlegislation.  I wrote separate posts yesterday about each of these, and I’ll be writing another one on Medicaid issue later today. 

But any lawsuits concerning some aspect of how the law is working in practice, once it gets underway, would result in the possible tweaking of an HHS regulation or in the manner in which a particular state is implementing the Act, but I just don’t foresee a successful attack on the constitutionality of some provision in the Act itself. 

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Thank you, Judge Posner

The chief justice, echoing Justice Scalia’s “broccoli” comment at the oral argument, rejected (as did the four dissenters, and so that is now the view of a majority of the justices) the Commerce Clause ground for the mandate, saying that to accept that ground would mean that “Congress could address the diet problem by ordering everyone to buy vegetables.” This argument, reassuring though it is to our obese population, confuses separate constitutional provisions. The Commerce Clause would empower Congress to order everyone to buy vegetables, because the market for most vegetables is interstate, but the “liberty” protected against the federal government by the Fifth Amendment would doubtless be interpreted to forbid such an imposition, just as it would be interpreted to forbid a federal law requiring everyone to be in bed with the lights out by 10 p.m. in order to economize on the use of electricity and, by doing so, reduce carbon emissions from electrical generating plants.

— Judge Richard A. Posner, on Slate, 5:38 p.m. today

Amen. 

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan also made that point, in their concurrence today.

I’m thrilled to be in such exalted company.

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My opinion: Almost no practical limiting effect on Congress’s regulatory powers

Some people think Roberts cleverly used this case to severely limit Congress’s regulatory powers.  Others strongly disagree.

I’m with the others.

I think that as a practical matter, this will have almost no limiting effect at all on Congress’s regulatory powers.  I can’t think of any circumstance in which this limitation would apply and in which there would be no other enumerated power under which Congress could enact the law.  In this case, the other enumerated power is the taxing power.  In the case of, say, the Selective Service Act, the enumerated power is the power to provide for the national defense.  Etc.

The reason that this limitation is insignificant is that the Commerce Clause argument was really a disguised Fifth Amendment due process (liberty! broccoli!) argument, and Roberts flatly rejected that.  He said, no, the Commerce power doesn’t allow this but the taxing power does—and, no, it doesn’t violate fundamental constitutional concepts of freedom, of liberty!  There may be other things that could be compelled under the taxing power—broccoli purchases, maybe—that would violate Fifth Amendment due process concepts (freedom! liberty!) and thus be unconstitutional on that basis, just as there are things that could be compelled under the Commerce power that would violate that concept of due process and thus be unconstitutional on that basis.  But this does not violate that concept of due process (freedom! liberty!). 

No, Roberts didn’t specifically separate the two concepts—Commerce Clause limitations and Fifth Amendment due process—and, yes, he does almost seem to conflate them the language Scocca quotes.  But the bottom line is that he found no due process (freedom! liberty!) problem with the mandate and penalty, and therefore no slippery slope to broccoli in this instance, even though he says the Commerce power isn’t broad enough to authorize the statute.  

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