Why the Commerce Clause ruling matters
The Supreme Court’s ruling in NFIB v. Sebelius was disheartening, especially after overturning the mandate seemed within reach. But despair is unwarranted. The negative consequences of the ruling for constitutional law are actually quite limited, and there is much in it upon which to build.
The constitutional battle was largely a defensive one. The primary challenge to the individual mandate was an effort to prevent further expansion of Congress’s already-inflated authority under the Commerce Clause. From the New Deal to 1995, Congress exercised its commerce power without meaningful restraint. Only during the later years of the Rehnquist Court did the justices finally say “Enough,” in United States v. Lopez (1995) and Morrison v. United States (2000). Yet even these decisions did not prevent the Court from upholding the federal government’s authority to prohibit simple possession of medical marijuana apart from commercial activity, in Gonzales v. Raich (2005).