Eye On Boise

Wasden: High court's reasoning 'a significant win for states' rights' on future Commerce Clause questions

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden finds something to celebrate in this morning's U.S. Supreme Court ruling, though the state didn't succeed in getting the health care reform act overturned: The high court's reasoning, he said, includes "a significant win for states' rights."

That's because the court's majority rejected the government's argument that the individual mandate was justified under the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, while upholding it instead under the taxing powers of Congress. "The whole argument that we raised was that the attempt by Congress here was an unconstitutional exercise of commerce clause power, and we were vindicated in that," Wasden said. "The court said that this is in fact an unconstitutional exercise of commerce clause power, and said furthermore that this was not saved by the necessary and proper clause. The court then went on to say that this was a tax, and it was an exercise of congressional taxing power."

He added, "The court then went on to say that the federal government could not coerce the state government to comply and expand its Medicaid program, that there was an agreement between the state and the federal government with regard to the current program. ... So there is significant vindication in the arguments that we presented to the court."

Idaho was one of 26 states suing to overturn the law, which Idaho lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter strongly opposed.

Wasden said of the court's reasoning, "It does matter. It's not really so much the issue of today, but the issue of what the analysis under the Commerce Clause is that's going to exist into the future, and what's the relationship of the state government to the federal government into the future. These are very significant questions. It is precedent ... that there is a limit under the commerce clause."

Said Wasden, "What we've learned is that there is, in fact, a limit to that Commerce Clause power, that individuals cannot be compelled to engage in commerce. That's very significant."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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