Restricting the Federal reach — what the Affordable Care Act teaches us

Since the Affordable Care Act decision was decided, few scholars pointed out the fabric of Roberts’ decision.  The Roberts’ decision was indeed highlighting that there are restrictions, limits, to federal power.  And now, the question that has been unanswered for eons of time, has propped up once again.

NPR’s All Things Considered recently published an interesting article discussing the possible effects of the Affordable Care Act decision on civil rights.  The reason for this, NPR explains:

But the Supreme Court’s ruling in the health care case involves the Commerce Clause and Congress’ spending power, which happen to be the backbone of most civil rights legislation.

“The Commerce Clause and the impact on interstate commerce of various types of discrimination has traditionally formed the basis for many civil rights statutes,” says Washington lawyer Robert Driscoll, who worked on civil rights in the George W. Bush Justice Department. “And unlike the health care case, civil rights statutes generally would not have a taxing provision which could provide the kind of save of the statute that happened for the health care case.”

The main point of concern is — to what extent is the federal government being limited by the Constitution?  At what point do federal laws apply “unconstitutional coercion?”

Under the Spending Clause, Congress may attach certain conditions to those entities or States that grab Congress’ money.  This obviously makes sense.  If you want free federal grant money, you should play by the rules.  The question that was brought up in the Affordable Care Act decision is — where is the boundary?  In other words, when would the Spending Clause go beyond when trying to enforce anti-discrimination legislation.

So the question now posed, is – to what extent will courts allow the limitation shape enforcement of federal laws, and in what specific areas?  Which group will the first one to be affected?  If history is guiding, those in the margins will be the first ones to see the effects.

via How The Health Care Ruling Might Affect Civil Rights : NPR.

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