Posted 09 January 2012
By Alexander Gaffney
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and a group of 26 states ("state petitioners") both filed briefs with the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Friday, 6 January outlining their respective arguments regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's (PPACA) constitutionality and the severability of certain components of the law.
The DOJ brief focuses on the question of whether or not "the minimum coverage provision is a valid exercise of Congress's powers under Article I of the Constitution." Article I includes, among other things, the Interstate Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause (sometimes referred to as the "Elastic Clause").
The DOJ brief argues that both clauses justify the use of congressional power to mandate the purchase of insurance because:
- the uninsured still participate in the health care market, and cost taxpayers $116 billion during 2008, which constitutes an economic activity that the Congress has the power to regulate;
- health insurance is the primary-and best-way to pay for health services;
- the PPACA addresses a "crisis in the national health care market";
- the Congress has "wide latitude when deciding how best to achieve its constitutional objectives";
- the law's minimum coverage penalty is tantamount to a tax, which the Congress has the power to levy under prior constitutional precedent; and
- the minimum coverage provisions of the law are necessary to the law's overall function.
The brief from the state petitioners argues against the law, and seeks to address the question of whether or not the PPACA's mandate can "be severed from the remainder of the act". In judicial parlance, this is known as severability. The states are hoping that SCOTUS declares the individual mandate an improper exercise of congressional power, and that this in turn will nullify the entire law.
The brief argues:
- the challenge to the PPACA is properly before the court. This is contested due to one of the law's challengers, Mary Brown, going bankrupt, which affects her ability to claim that the law will affect her business adversely;
- PPACA's many provisions-and in particular the individual mandate-do not work without the presence of other related provisions, and therefore do not demonstrate severability; and
- if the Individual mandate is found to be unconstitutional, so, too, must the entire law be found to be unconstitutional.
The group's arguments were closely mirrored in an amicus curiae brief filed by 36 Republican members of the Senate on 6 January.
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments regarding the healthcare law on 26-28 March, 2012.