Supreme Court Bond Ruling: Bad News for ObamaCare?


By Hadley Heath

Infidelity, chemical burns, federalism... ObamaCare...

What do these things have to do with each other?  Not a lot, you might think.  But have you read David Rivkin and Lee Casey's take on the Supreme Court's ruling in Bond v. United States?

From today's Wall Street Journal:

The Supreme Court's most important ruling this year may have been its unanimous decision in Bond v. United States, which held that individual citizens can challenge federal statutes when they encroach on authority the Constitution reserves to the states. The decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, has far-reaching implications—especially for the government's efforts to defend ObamaCare.

The facts of the case were curious, to say the least. Defendant Carol Bond, having discovered that her close friend was pregnant by her husband, sprinkled caustic substances on a mailbox, car-door handle and door knobs. The substances worked: The hated paramour suffered minor burns.

Intriguing story, right?  Well clearly Mrs. Bond broke the law by burning her pregnant "friend," but which law?  There are multiple federal laws that criminalize what she did, but she was prosecuted specifically under a federal statute meant to implement the "Chemical Weapons Convention."  So she (and her lawyers) turned around and questioned whether this law could be used to prosecute someone, even when there was no specific federal interest and no effect on interstate commerce.  The federal government can't just make any law it wants to; it may take specific actions in accordance with its enumerated powers in the Constitution.

Mrs. Bond lost out in Appeals Court, when judges ruled that the state of Pennsylvania would have to be a party to a suit that challenged a law on federalism grounds.  But, Rivkin and Casey continue:

The Supreme Court disagreed. With an unusual unanimity, the court held squarely that individual citizens have every right to challenge federal laws on the ground that they exceed the limited and enumerated powers vested in Congress by the Constitution. The court stated without equivocation that "[b]y denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power. When the government acts in excess of its lawful powers, that liberty is at stake."

"Fidelity to principles of federalism," Justice Kennedy further noted, "is not for the States alone to vindicate."

For Supreme Court watchers, Bond is a profound reaffirmation of the centrality of the state-federal "dual sovereignty" system. That's why the decision is bad news for those who defend ObamaCare—the most extravagant challenge to that dual system in our history.

In enacting the ObamaCare law, Congress seized for itself the very type of power—the ability to regulate individual conduct regardless of any significant connection to interstate commerce or another legitimate federal regulatory interest—that the Constitution reserves solely to the states. In defending the law in court, the Obama administration has persistently sought to narrow the Constitution's federalism principles and to trivialize the Supreme Court's recent decisions supporting those principles.  

Read the rest of their analysis here.


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