Peeling Back Congressional Overreach
Americans are all too familiar with the federal government’s intrusion into our daily lives. It sometimes seems that the feds have their hands in nearly every aspect of our daily life: what we drive, how we educate our children, down to the very food we eat. Unfortunately, Americans are less familiar with how the federal government is able to justify such intrusions.
They should look no further than the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which is embodied in Article I, Section 8, Clause 3:
To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes
The Founders included this provision in the enumerated powers of the federal government to prevent discriminatory commercial activities between the states and to secure regulation of international commerce for the federal government only. That seems reasonable enough.
Unfortunately, the federal government has misused the Commerce Clause to regulate many activities of the states—and in fact, private citizens—of which it was never intended to regulate. Perhaps the most egregious abuse occurred in the Supreme Court case Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942).
A small-time dairy farmer was charged for growing wheat in excess of that allowed by a federal law. Importantly, the wheat was not destined for the market. Instead, the farmer used it to make flour for household consumption and as feed for his dairy cattle.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court ruled, “even if [his] activity be local and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still…be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.”
In non-lawyer speak – the Court opened the door to Congressional regulation of nearly any activity. The Commerce Clause was no longer merely able to regulate interstate and foreign commerce by the federal government; it was how the feds shaped society for states and even individual citizens.
This New Deal era mentality meant that the federal government was the answer to society’s ills and the Commerce Clause became the vehicle for the government’s intrusion. Last week’s Virginia ruling, on Obamacare’s individual mandate, may have signaled an end of an era
In striking down the individual mandate, Judge Hudson noted: “Neither the Supreme Court nor any federal circuit court of appeals has extended Commerce Clause powers to compel an individual to involuntarily enter the stream of commerce by purchasing a commodity in the private market.”
This ruling is important for numerous reasons. First, it represents the first successful suit striking down the constitutionality of a part of Obamacare. Second, and equally as important, it makes a strong statement against Congress’s use of the Commerce Clause to regulate choices for individual citizens..
The VA ruling will most certainly be appealed, but conservatives should welcome these pending appeals to give precedential value to this important ruling. For nearly a century, the Commerce Clause has been misused to justify massive government intrusion into our lives.
The Virginia ruling on Obamacare is the first step to peeling back this dangerous practice.
James Holland, an intern at Heritage Action, wrote this piece.