Today’s 2–1 Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the constitutionality of the individual mandate is undeniably a setback for mandate opponents. Up until now, judges’ votes in the mandate cases had split along ideological and partisan lines. Every conservative Republican judge had voted to strike it down, while every liberal Democrat voted to uphold it. Even in the Sixth Circuit, two of the three judges fit the same pattern (Judge Boyce Martin, and Judge Graham in dissent). But Judge Jeffrey Sutton, a well-known conservative judge has now become the first exception to it. Like Martin, he voted to uphold the mandate as an exercise of Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause.
At the same time, Martin and Sutton’s opinions highlight a central weakness of the pro-mandate position in even more blatant form than previous opinions upholding the mandate. Their reasoning has extremely radical implications. Unlike previous decisions upholding the mandate, which ruled that failing to purchase health insurance is “economic activity,” Martin and Sutton conclude that Congress has the power to regulate inactivity as well, so long as the inactivity has some kind of “substantial” economic effect.
June 29, 2011
Ilya Somin comments: