Americans who own and run their own small businesses understand better than anyone the importance of limited government for prosperity and liberty. So, when Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration decided that they had the power to force every American citizen to buy health insurance – the first time the federal government has ever tried to force Americans to buy anything – the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) moved quickly to oppose this unprecedented and profoundly unconstitutional claim of power.
By joining with 20 state governments in a lawsuit aimed at overturning the controversial new health care law, NFIB is making sure that small business stands up for the Founding Fathers' vision of a federal government of limited powers. At the core of the case, currently before federal Judge Roger Vinson in Pensacola, Florida, is the Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” which authorizes Congress to “regulate” interstate commerce. As NFIB and the states challenging the law argue, not once in the Constitution's 223-year history has the Commerce Clause been interpreted to allow Congress to force citizens to engage in economic activity, rather than simply to allow it to regulate those who choose to do so.
This is a vital distinction. If the Commerce Clause allows Congress to force Americans to buy health insurance (or anything else), there will cease to be any constitutional barrier to Congress’ mandating all sorts of other purchases. It is not too difficult to imagine federal "mandates" to buy fruits and vegetables or join a gym, or even to buy cars from manufacturers bailed out by the federal government.
Judge Vinson seems to agree. Today, he ruled that NFIB’s lawsuit may move forward and denied the Obama administration’s request that he dismiss the case. In doing so, Judge Vinson stated (pages 63-64):
“The individual mandate applies across the board. People have no choice and there is no way to avoid it. Those who fall under the individual mandate either comply with it, or they are penalized. It is not based on an activity that they make the choice to undertake. Rather, it is based solely on citizenship and on being alive. As the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluded sixteen years ago (when the individual mandate was considered, but not pursued during the 1994 national healthcare reform efforts): “A mandate requiring all individuals to purchase health insurance would be an unprecedented form of federal action. The government has never required people to buy any good or service as a condition of lawful residence in the United States.” See Congressional Budget Office Memorandum, The Budgetary Treatment of an Individual Mandate to Buy Health Insurance, August 1994
The lawsuit is far from over, but today’s ruling represents a significant victory: NFIB will now be able to fully argue its case and the administration will have to defend its attempt to exert unprecedented and unconstitutional power over the lives of individuals. NFIB is confident that the Constitution will prevail.
Karen Harned the executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center. NFIB is a plaintiff on the federal lawsuit with 20 states challenging the constitutionality of the new health care law.