On The Mandate: The Taxing Power Escape Route for the SCOTUS
At balkinization, Jack Balkin points to his Atlantic article in which he discusses a 1950 taxing power case that seems clinching to me with regard to whether the individual mandate penalty is constitutional as a valid exercise of Congress' taxing power. I'm surprised it was not discussed more (and feel remiss in not having discussed it myself.) Balkin writes:
It also doesn't matter that the real purpose of the tax is to regulate behavior. Lots of taxes are designed to do just that -- think about taxes on polluters as an example -- and federal taxes on drugs are designed to keep people from buying or selling them. In 1950, the Court upheld a tax on marijuana, explaining that "a tax does not cease to be valid merely because it regulates, discourages, or even definitely deters the activities taxed. The principle applies even though the revenue obtained is obviously negligible . . . or the revenue purpose of the tax may be secondary." "Nor does a tax statute necessarily fall," the Court added, "because it touches on activities which Congress might not otherwise regulate" under its other enumerated powers. So even if the mandate is beyond the commerce power, it can still be a constitutional exercise of the power to tax and spend for the general welfare.
The 1950 case Balkin is referring to is U.S. v. Sanchez:
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