Terence P. Jeffrey
During oral arguments in the Supreme Court this week, Justice Stephen Breyer posed and answered the core question at issue in the controversy over the constitutionality of Obamacare’s mandate that individual Americans must buy government-approved health insurance policies: Can Congress order individuals to buy a good or service?
“Yes, of course they could,” said Breyer.
In the history of the nation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government has never done this.
But Breyer, on Tuesday, stated his belief that the basic power of Congress to do such a thing was settled by the Supreme Court as early as 1819, in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the court decided Congress had the power to create a Bank of the United States.
Breyer explained his point of view after becoming impatient with the convoluted answers Solicitor General Donald Verrilli had offered up in response to questions from Justices Sam Alito and Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Alito had asked Verrilli if Congress could force young people to buy burial insurance because everyone is going to die someday. Roberts asked Verrilli if Congress could force people to buy cell phones because it would facilitate contacting emergency services in the event of an accident. And Kennedy asked Verrilli: “Can you create commerce in order to regulate it.”
“I'm somewhat uncertain about your answers to, for example, Justice Kennedy,” said Breyer. He “asked, can you, under the Commerce Clause, Congress create commerce where previously none existed.
“Well, yes,” said Breyer, “I thought the answer to that was, since McCulloch versus Maryland, when the Court said Congress could create the Bank of the United States which did not previously exist, which job was to create commerce that did not previously exist, since that time the answer has been, yes.
-----When Breyer was confirmed to the Supreme Court, only 9 Republicans in the Senate voted against him.
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