My column this week explains the logic behind an important new constitutional challenge to ObamaCare by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit property rights law firm.
In its lawsuit, Sissel v. Department of Health and Human Services, PLF argues that the Supreme Court did ObamaCare no favors when it saved the law from a Commerce Clause challenge by reinterpreting it as a constitutional exercise of Congress’ taxing power.
Instead, PLF argues, the Court merely exposed ObamaCare’s newly found taxing authority as an express violation of the Constitution’s Origination Clause, which requires all new tax bills to originate in the House of Representatives, not in the Senate as ObamaCare did.
Though simple and faithful to the Constitution’s text, PLF’s argument is nonetheless novel because some of the Supreme Court’s precedents indicate the Court will not seriously enforce the Origination Clause’s procedure.
But as liberal legal scholar Jack Balkin says in a blog for The Atlantic, Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues may be open to rethinking those precedents:
In a previous essay for The Atlantic, I noted that even if a legal argument is currently “off the wall,” it may nevertheless become plausible if enough prominent people get behind it and vouch for it. Support by major political parties is probably the most important factor in quickly moving arguments from “off the wall” to “on the wall.” The challengers’ arguments in NFIB v. Sebelius got as far as they did because the unconstitutionality of Obamacare became virtually the official position of the Republican Party, and Republican politicians and affiliated media pushed the challengers’ claims over and over again. Repeated arguments by conservative politicians, media, and intelligentsia, in turn, probably affected the views of Republican-appointed judges and justices about how seriously to take the arguments.
Members of the media will no doubt ask legal scholars (such as yours truly) whether the PLF’s new constitutional challenge to Obamacare is likely to succeed on the merits. I’ve just given you my answer: not under existing law.
But if reporters have been paying attention to the events of the last two years, they should know that, at least where health care reform is concerned, the considered views of legal scholars are not the most important ones. The real question to ask is whether Republican politicians, right-wing talk radio, and Fox News will get behind the new challenge with the same degree of enthusiasm they had for the first legal assault on Obamacare. If they do, then the mainstream media will no doubt cover the controversy as it did before. If a conservative district court judge takes the arguments seriously, the game is on once more. And then, perhaps, Chief Justice Roberts, given a second chance, will change his mind — again.