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The Founding Fathers Obviously Didn’t Know the Constitution

As you have probably heard, 14 states are filing suit against the health care reform bill, calling it an “unprecedented encroachment on the sovereignty of the states”. They claim that “The Constitution nowhere authorizes the United States to mandate, either directly or under threat of penalty, that all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage”.

But there’s a big problem with this. Way way back in 1798, president John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”, which required all sailors, including privately employed ones, to purchase health care insurance. From the government. Or there would be fines.

Law is based on precedent. And precedent is telling me that this lawsuit is nothing more than a poorly researched political stunt. Case closed.

UPDATE: a 2005 decision written by conservative justices Scalia and Kennedy might make these lawsuits moot.



  1. Mad-World wrote:

    What about, “Promote the general welfare?”

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink
  2. Maslab wrote:

    This is all next to the point that many states require you to have auto insurance…

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  3. Hassan wrote:

    Was not John Adams federalist? as opposed to Jefferson who was for republic and weak central government?

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink
  4. Jonah wrote:

    I think the argument posed by the AG’s is that in the previous cases the people required to purchase insurance were doing something related to commerce such as driving or sailing. In the case of insurance everyone has to buy insurance whether or not they are working. Interesting to see how this turns out especially since the supreme court is somewhat on the conservative side.

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink
  5. starluna wrote:

    I am personally very concerned about how the Supreme Court would respond to this. The recent decision in Citizens United (allowing unlimited financing by corporations in elections) speaks volumes about this. Clearly, common sense and precedent have not stopped the Roberts Court from making very bad policy decisions.

    Friday, March 26, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  6. Ray Radlein wrote:

    Even before that, there was the Militia Act of 1792 — ironically beloved of many Tea Partiers for its Second Amendment implications — which required every able-bodied free male citizen between the ages of 18 and 45 to buy or otherwise acquire “…a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch and powder horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder…”

    Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 12:51 am | Permalink
  7. Starluna. I’ve not followed the case too closely. There’re sufficient parallels to be worried?

    Also, the car insurance analogy is probably not a direct precedent. We buy such insurance so as to exercise a privilege, not because it is a requirement. I hope that the lawyers can’t shoot this down, or that the Supreme Court can’t kill it, but I also don’t know of a requirement that makes citizens buy something in the private marketplace. (I can see precedents if there had been a public option–we are required to pay taxes to use public resources.)

    Yeah, Public Option. I went there. 😉

    Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 6:09 am | Permalink
  8. starluna wrote:

    Frankly, there is no good parallel. The law blogs are just lit up about this issue. There doesn’t seem to be much direct precedent, so there really is no way to know how they would decide. What concerns me is that Roberts Court decisions are being made that are not only openly ideologically conservative, but not even based on common sense or precedent. My concern is that no matter how much we as a country need this reform (including the individual mandate), not matter how much indirect precedent you can find, any decision made will be based primarily on a narrow and distorted view of the role of the federal government’s role in supporting social welfare (the Preamble to the Constitution notwithstanding).

    Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  9. Starluna. *nods* Fair enough, and your evaluation of the Court strikes me as accurate.

    This *isn’t* over. Maybe that’s why they gave it 3 years before implementing it. (That and to get past an election cycle or two.)

    Saturday, March 27, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  10. Hassan wrote:

    You can opt out of car insurance by not having car, but you can not opt out of health insurance because you exist. What if I do not like what the private insurance companies are offering? If government is mandating health insurance, it must then provide its own product to purchase (public option). Why should I make private companies rich..

    Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  11. StoptheStupid wrote:

    Strawman.”in 1798, president John Adams signed into law “An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen”, which required all sailors, including privately employed ones, to purchase health care insurance. From the government. Or there would be fines.”


    Sunday, March 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Permalink
  12. Iron Knee wrote:

    I don’t get the “you can choose to own a car” and “you can choose to be a sailor” arguments. After all, anyone can certainly choose to not be an American any more. Back during the Vietnam War when we had a draft, quite a few people decided to renounce their citizenship and leave the country.

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 4:18 am | Permalink
  13. Hassan wrote:

    Right Iron, we can choose not to be American, and leave the country.. but is it what America becoming? Remember neo-cons used same kind of arguments for Bush presidency, that love him or leave the country. Where will it end

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink
  14. Iron Knee wrote:

    Hassan, I wasn’t suggesting that people leave the country or even encouraging them to do so. I was only questioning why people keep making the argument about choice.

    Monday, March 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm | Permalink