NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT BUSINESS V. SEBELIUS (2012)
The Court upheld most provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but five conservative Justices planted the seeds of new restrictions on the ability of Congress to address major social needs. Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a penalty as an exercise of congressional power to tax, but he and the four other conservatives found that the individual mandate was not an appropriate exercise of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce. This position is a radical break with seventy-five years of precedent giving Congress broad power through the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The position of the conservatives threatens to curtail the ability of Congress to enact legislation in areas ranging from civil rights to social welfare.
William Yeomans is a fellow in law and government at American University Washington College of Law. He spent 26 years at the U.S. Department of Justice, and served as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s chief counsel, legal director of the Alliance for Justice, and director of programs for the American Constitution Society.