It’s a good thing that Americans are taking their founding document seriously. After all, the Constitution is the font of all federal power. Its carefully crafted structural provisions that we learned about in grade school, such as the separation of powers and checks and balances, are not merely an application of political theory.
“Federalism is more than an exercise in setting the boundary between different institutions of government for their own integrity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for a unanimous Supreme Court earlier this year. “By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life,” Kennedy continued, “federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power.” If the federal government acts outside the scope of its delegated and carefully enumerated powers, then it’s no better than an armed mob.
The Obama administration and its allies in Congress have perpetrated more than their share of such mob-like actions. While it’s hard to narrow them down, here’s my stab at the government’s top 10 constitutional violations since President Obama took office.
1. The individual mandate
No list of President Obama’s constitutional violations would be complete without including the requirement that every American purchase health insurance, on penalty of civil fine. The individual mandate is unprecedented and exceeds Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce. If it is allowed to stand, Congress will be able to impose any kind of economic mandate as part of any kind of national regulatory scheme. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has a chance to strike this down during its current term.
2. Medicaid coercion
The Court will also be taking up Obamacare’s massive intrusion on federal-state relations in the form of a coercive Medicaid expansion. The law compels states to drastically increase their Medicaid expenditures and reorganize their health care bureaucracies, on penalty of losing all (not just additional) Medicaid funds. No state contemplated such a program when it signed onto Medicaid — Arizona was the last to join, in 1982 — and now no state can afford to withdraw. Indeed, even if some withdrawal mechanism existed, withdrawn states’ taxpayers would still be funding complying states’ Medicaid programs. As the Supreme Court held in South Dakota v. Dole, there comes a point when “the financial inducement offered by Congress might be so coercive as to pass the point at which pressure turns into compulsion.”
3. The Independent Payment Advisory Board (a.k.a. “The Death Panel”)
IPAB is the group of 15 presidential appointees who, beginning in 2014, are tasked with reducing Medicare spending. Any decisions IPAB makes automatically become law that can only be overridden by a three-fifths majority vote in the Senate. Unlike other federal agencies, IPAB is subject to no external review — no public notification in advance of proposed rules or opportunity for comment, no administrative guidelines and no judicial review. Medicare comprises about 13 percent of the federal budget, so that’s an awesome amount of power for Congress to delegate to unelected executive-branch bureaucrats. Indeed, it’s so basic a violation of traditional separation of powers that there’s no historical analog. The Goldwater Institute has filed a strong lawsuit challenging this (yet another) unprecedented aspect of Obamacare, which will continue wending its way through the lower courts regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the individual mandate and Medicaid-coercion issues.
4. The Chrysler bailout
Building on the Bush administration’s illegal use of TARP funds to bail out the auto industry, the Obama administration bullied Chrysler’s secured creditors — who were entitled to “absolute priority” — into accepting 30 cents on the dollar, while junior creditors such as labor unions received much more. This subversion of creditor rights violates not just bankruptcy law but also the Constitution’s Takings and Due Process Clauses. This blatant crony capitalism — government-directed industrial policy to help political insiders — discourages investors and generally undermines confidence in American rule of law.