Individual Mandate Survives the Health Care Decision

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Money quote from opinion via SCOTUSBlog:  

“Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in Section 5000A under the taxing power, and that Section 5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it.” 

Roberts’ rationale is on pages 31 & 32 of the decision which is here.  The discussion is about the past precendent always assumes the benefit of doubt to Congress; to find the authority with which they can implement statute; not find a way in which they thorw it out. 


The Government relies primarily on our decision in Gonzales v. Raich. In Raich, we considered “comprehensive legislation to regulate the interstate market” in marijuana. 545 U. S., at 22. Certain individuals sought anexemption from that regulation on the ground that theyengaged in only intrastate possession and consumption.We denied any exemption, on the ground that marijuanais a fungible commodity, so that any marijuana couldbe readily diverted into the interstate market. Congress’sattempt to regulate the interstate market for marijuanawould therefore have been substantially undercut if it could not also regulate intrastate possession and consumption. Id., at 19. Accordingly, we recognized that“Congress was acting well within its authority” under the Necessary and Proper Clause even though its “regulationensnare[d] some purely intrastate activity.” Id., at 22; see also Perez, 402 U. S., at 154. Raich thus did not involve the exercise of any “great substantive and independentpower,” McCulloch, supra, at 411, of the sort at issue here. Instead, it concerned only the constitutionality of “individual applications of a concededly valid statutory scheme.” Raich, supra, at 23 (emphasis added).
Just as the individual mandate cannot be sustained as a law regulating the substantial effects of the failure to purchase health insurance, neither can it be upheld asa “necessary and proper” component of the insurance reforms. The commerce power thus does not authorize the mandate. Accord, post, at 4–16 (joint opinion of SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., dissenting).
31 Cite as: 567 U. S. ____ (2012)
Opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.
B That is not the end of the matter. Because the Commerce Clause does not support the individual mandate, itis necessary to turn to the Government’s second argument: that the mandate may be upheld as within Congress’senumerated power to “lay and collect Taxes.” Art. I, §8,
cl. 1.
The Government’s tax power argument asks us to view the statute differently than we did in considering its commerce power theory. In making its Commerce Clauseargument, the Government defended the mandate as aregulation requiring individuals to purchase health insurance. The Government does not claim that the taxingpower allows Congress to issue such a command. Instead, the Government asks us to read the mandate not as ordering individuals to buy insurance, but rather as imposing a tax on those who do not buy that product.
The text of a statute can sometimes have more than one possible meaning. To take a familiar example, a law that reads “no vehicles in the park” might, or might not, ban bicycles in the park. And it is well established that if a statute has two possible meanings, one of which violates the Constitution, courts should adopt the meaning thatdoes not do so. Justice Story said that 180 years ago: “No court ought, unless the terms of an act rendered it unavoidable, to give a construction to it which should involve a violation, however unintentional, of the constitution.” Parsons v. Bedford, 3 Pet. 433, 448–449 (1830). Justice Holmes made the same point a century later: “[T]he rule issettled that as between two possible interpretations of a statute, by one of which it would be unconstitutional and by the other valid, our plain duty is to adopt that whichwill save the Act.” Blodgett v. Holden, 275 U. S. 142, 148 (1927) (concurring opinion).
The most straightforward reading of the mandate isthat it commands individuals to purchase insurance.
32
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF INDEPENDENT
BUSINESS v. SEBELIUS
Opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.
After all, it states that individuals “shall” maintain health insurance. 26 U. S. C. §5000A(a). Congress thought itcould enact such a command under the Commerce Clause, and the Government primarily defended the law on thatbasis. But, for the reasons explained above, the Commerce Clause does not give Congress that power. Under our precedent, it is therefore necessary to ask whether theGovernment’s alternative reading of the statute—that itonly imposes a tax on those without insurance—is a reasonable one.
Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. See §5000A(b). That, according to the Government,means the mandate can be regarded as establishing acondition—not owning health insurance—that triggers atax—the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance.Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income. And if the mandate is in effect just a tax hike on certain taxpayers who do not have health insurance, itmay be within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.
The question is not whether that is the most naturalinterpretation of the mandate, but only whether it is a “fairly possible” one. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22, 62 (1932). As we have explained, “every reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.” Hooper v. California, 155 U. S. 648, 657 (1895). The Government asks us to interpret the mandate as imposing a tax, if it would otherwise violate the Constitution. Granting the Act the full measure of deference owed to federal statutes, it can be so read, for the reasons set forth below.
Opinion of ROBERTS, C. J.
33 Cite as: 567 U. S. ____ (2012)
Opinion of the Court
C The exaction the Affordable Care Act imposes on those without health insurance looks like a tax in many respects. The “[s]hared responsibility payment,” as thestatute entitles it, is paid into the Treasury by “taxpayer[s]” when they file their tax returns. 26 U. S. C. §5000A(b). It does not apply to individuals who do not pay federal income taxes because their household income is less than the filing threshold in the Internal Revenue Code. §5000A(e)(2). For taxpayers who do owe the payment, its amount is determined by such familiar factors astaxable income, number of dependents, and joint filing status. §§5000A(b)(3), (c)(2), (c)(4). The requirement topay is found in the Internal Revenue Code and enforced by the IRS, which—as we previously explained—must assessand collect it “in the same manner as taxes.” Supra, at 13–14. This process yields the essential feature of any tax:it produces at least some revenue for the Government. United States v. Kahriger, 345 U. S. 22, 28, n. 4 (1953). Indeed, the payment is expected to raise about $4 billionper year by 2017. Congressional Budget Office, Paymentsof Penalties for Being Uninsured Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Apr. 30, 2010), in SelectedCBO Publications Related to Health Care Legislation,2009–2010, p. 71 (rev. 2010). It is of course true that the Act describes the payment asa “penalty,” not a “tax.” But while that label is fatal to the application of the Anti-Injunction Act, supra, at 12–13, it does not determine whether the payment may be viewedas an exercise of Congress’s taxing power. It is up to Congress whether to apply the Anti-Injunction Act to anyparticular statute, so it makes sense to be guided by Congress’s choice of label on that question. That choice does not, however, control whether an exaction is within Congress’s constitutional power to tax.Our precedent reflects this: In 1922, we decided two

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