Why Obamacare is "the Most Important Case" in 50 Years


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Does the fate of a federal government with limited powers rest in the hands of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia? And if so, will he rule against broad federal powers (as he did in the Gonzales case) or in favor of the feds' right to regulate just about anything (as he did in the Raich case)?

The Supreme Court case over The Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, "is certainly the most important case on the reach of federal power in 50 years" says attorney and legal scholar Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation. "The constitutional principle of where is the line drawn on federal power—that's a matter that our children and grandchildren will have to live with."

The ruling will come sometime in early June, predicts Sandefur, who tells Reason.tv that the Affordable Care Act raises mutliple constitutional issues: Can part of the law be struck down and other upheld? Is the "individual mandate," which forces all Americans to purchase insurance as a condition of simply being alive, legal? Does the law's massive expansion of Medicaid shred the right of states to govern their own finances?

"If the Court says yes, the federal government can compel you to buy health insurance," Sandefur tells Reason's Nick Gillespie, "then it would be a matter of politics whether Congress chooses to force you to buy a Chevy Volt or buy whatever else they think is good for society or the economy or whatever else a politician thinks is a good idea." What's more, Obamacare's Medicaid provisions, which call for an ever-increasing number of citizens to be covered by the nation's health care program for the poor, deny states the right to opt out and still receive federal money. "The federal government has never done something like this before," explains Sandefur, "where it expanded eligibility requirements so dramatically."

Sandefur, who is attending the Supreme Court's oral arguments, maintains the blog Freespace and is the author of The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. He is a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm headquartered in Sacramento, California that works for economic freedom and individual rights. PLF filed several amicus briefs against The Affordable Care Act and represented the plaintiffs in Sackett v. EPA, the just-decided Supreme Court case which ruled that compliance orders by the federal Environmental Protection Agency can be challenged in court by affected landowners. The case is being hailed as a major victory for property rights. Watch a Reason.tv video about Sackett v. EPA here.

Approximately 7 minutes.

Shot by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg, and edited by Epstein.

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