On Monday, March 26th, 2012, the Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments on National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius and two linked cases, the lawsuits against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA; signed into law by President Obama on 3/23/2010). The court announced on February 21st that it would hear 6 hours of arguments over 3 days, an historic and unprecedented amount of time. The last time the Supreme Court heard more than 2 hours of arguments was when it considered the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in 2003.
At issue in the cases before the Supreme Court is the constitutionality of federal involvement, interference, or interposition (depending on who's doing the interpreting) regarding activities of private citizens and activities of the states. The question of constitutionality of the ACA relates specifically to the Commerce Clause (U.S. Constitution Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3). The Commerce Clause states "Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes". As with all clauses of the Constitution, the Commerce Clause must be interpreted and applied. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter and interpreter of all such applications, declaring the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of congressional and state legislation.
The challenges to the ACA state that the federal government has exceeded its constitutionally enumerated powers. The Tenth Amendment states "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The challenges suggest that the ACA attempts to wield a federal power that does not exist under the Constitution and attempts to interfere with powers appropriately "reserved" to the states and to "the people". The challenges assert that it is the right of a citizen, rather than a prerogative of the federal government, to determine whether she will purchase health insurance. The challenges also assert that the federal government cannot dictate how a state conducts its Medicaid program.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.