Judge Andrew Napolitano recently asked Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC) where in the Constitution the federal government is authorized to regulate the delivery of health care. His response was ‘There’s nothing in the Constitution that says that the federal government has anything to do with most of the stuff we do.’
Rep. Clyburn, like many of his colleagues, seems to have conveniently forgotten that the federal government has only specific enumerated powers. He also seems to have overlooked the Ninth and 10th Amendments, which limit Congress’s powers only to those granted in the Constitution.
One of those powers—the power “to regulate” interstate commerce—is the favorite hook on which Congress hangs its hat in order to justify the regulation of anything it wants to control.
Unfortunately, a notoriously tendentious New Deal-era Supreme Court decision has given Congress a green light to use the Commerce Clause to regulate noncommercial, and even purely local, private behavior. In Wickard v. Filburn (1942), the Supreme Court held that a farmer who grew wheat just for the consumption of his own family violated federal agricultural guidelines enacted pursuant to the Commerce Clause. Though the wheat did not move across state lines—indeed, it never left his farm—the Court held that if other similarly situated farmers were permitted to do the same it, might have an aggregate effect on interstate commerce.
Interstate commerce has nothing to do with practicing medicine. The application of health care is serviced performed on a person, not a product to be traded across state lines. Therefore, the Commerce Clause does not apply.
The practice of medicine consists of the delivery of intimate services to the human body. In almost all instances, the delivery of medical services occurs in one place and does not move across interstate lines. One goes to a physician not to engage in commercial activity, as the Framers of the Constitution understood, but to improve one’s health. And the practice of medicine, much like public school safety, has been regulated by states for the past century.
The same Congress that wants to tell family farmers what to grow in their backyards has declined “to keep regular” the commercial sale of insurance policies. It has permitted all 50 states to erect the type of barriers that the Commerce Clause was written precisely to tear down. Insurers are barred from selling policies to people in another state.
That’s right: Congress refuses to keep commerce regular when the commercial activity is the sale of insurance, but claims it can regulate the removal of a person’s appendix because that constitutes interstate commerce.
What we have here is raw abuse of power by the federal government for political purposes. The president and his colleagues want to reward their supporters with “free” health care that the rest of us will end up paying for. Their only restraint on their exercise of Commerce Clause power is whatever they can get away with. They aren’t upholding the Constitution—they are evading it.
The mass collection of medical data likely to occur under proposed reforms threatens the Fourth Amendment’s “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.” Making it a crime not to buy insurance, and then forcing people to show they have not bought it, arguably clashes with the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination.
The Ninth Amendment reserves to individuals all rights not expressly denied by the Constitution. Nothing in the document curtails our right not to purchase health insurance. And being forced to fill out forms to apply for insurance is in tension with the 13th Amendment’s prohibition of “involuntary servitude.”
The quality we could expect from government care may also raise constitutional questions. In early August, a federal panel ordered California to release 40,000 inmates because the health services were so strained, causing one unnecessary prisoner death per week, so as to render the treatment “unconstitutional.” If we all become captive consumers under federal mandate, could we not similarly argue that any shoddiness in our mandated health services is an unconstitutional burden?
According to the most recent bill out of the Senate, families will be fined up to $3.800 for not carrying approved insurance. This is not health care, it is the illegal extraction of wealth.
Walter E. Williams
Jim Babka, Downsize DC
Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ) has introduced a bill (H.R. 450, The Enumerated Powers Act) in the House to require the Congress to cite which part of the Constitution each piece of legislation relies on for enactment. It currently has 51 cosponsors.
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