On the Commerce Clause

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” James Madison, 4th President of the United States (1809-1817)

Well they went and did it. Despite the majority of Americans not wanting more government interference in their lives, the Congress went ahead and invoked the Commerce Clause as justification of passing healthcare reform late last night. This is a perversion of the meaning and intent of this part of the U.S. Constitution, as well as a complete disregard to the specific enumerated powers contained therein.

According to Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States … To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”

So, after reading above, where exactly does Congress get the interpretation that they have the right to force individuals to purchase something? To understand this, you have to have an understanding of past American case law. Sadly, judicial activism against our Constitution started long ago.

Up until the 20th century, Congress had tried many times to overreach their enumerated powers via the “regulate” and “provide for the general welfare” sections of this clause. Fortunately the Courts prevented them from doing so by choosing instead to read the Constitution as a whole. Namely, they found that the Commerce Clause was not intended to give Congress the power to negate the 9th or 10th amendments, but merely addressed only those specific enumerated powers allowed to the federal government to begin with. However, during the New Deal Era under FDR, all that changed in the case of Wickard vs. Filburn (1942).

Filburn was a small farmer in Ohio. The Department of Agriculture had set production quotas to stabilize the price of wheat. Filburn harvested nearly 12 acres of wheat above this government allotment for his own personal use on his farm. He was fined for exceeding his quota. The court reasoned that had he not grown the extra wheat he would have had to purchase wheat — therefore, he was indirectly affecting interstate commerce. In essence, Filburn was fined for choosing to grow his own food instead of purchasing it from someone else. How would you like to be fined for growing your own vegetables instead of purchasing them from the grocery store?  

Unfortunately, this unconstitutional case opened the floodgates to the abuse we see today. Congress felt that they could now pass whatever law they wanted, as long as they could somehow find a way that it affected interstate commerce, no matter how indirect or tenuous. They ignored the 9th and 10th amendments (not to mention the rest of the Constitution) and they ignored the writings of our founders, which made clear the intentions and purpose of this document. If you accept Congress’s arguments that they have the right to force health insurance purchase under the Commerce Clause, then what pray tell, would they be able to force us to do next? Under their reasoning, their power could be limitless. Our founders must be rolling in their grave; the Constitution was intended to restrict government powers over the people, not expand them.

The sad irony of all this is that if Congress would allow insurance to be bought across state lines, they would actually be on Constitutional footing. Right now states erect regulations that restrict this activity, and therefore prevent interstate commerce from actually happening. Congress could, under the Commerce Clause, remove this barrier, and actually fulfill the original intent of the Clause.

Life. Liberty. The Pursuit of Happiness. All of these are of a personal nature. Yet according to our government, all of these can somehow affect interstate commerce. So, which one of these will Congress feel the need to regulate next, and whose definition will they use? Do you want it to be yours or theirs?

“How strangely will the tools of a tyrant pervert the plain meaning of words!” Samuel Adams (1722-1803)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply