Recently, a reporter with right-wing press outlet CNSNews asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi whether health reform violates the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Speaker gave the question exactly as much respect as it deserved:
CNSNews.com: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?”
Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?”
Pelosi is right to be dismissive of the fringe right-wing theory behind this question, which has no basis in the Constitution itself. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the power “[t]o regulate commerce…among the several states” as well as the authority to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its power to regulate commerce.-Een ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia acknowledges that these constitutional provisions give Congress sweeping authority to enact laws that regulate “economic activity.”
CNSNews’ question to the House Speaker essentially parrots a claim by two discredited right-wing attorneys that a provision of health reform known as the “individual mandate” exceeds Congress’ authority because it does not regulate economic activity. This claim is wrong.
When confronted with the “tenther” question, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) offered an entirely novel argument against the individual mandate. Although Boehner admitted that he is “not a constitutional lawyer,” he added that “it’s wrong to mandate that the American people have to do anything”:
Boehner said: “Well, I’m not a lawyer and I’m certainly not a constitutional lawyer, but I think it’s wrong to mandate that the American people have to do anything.
“You know, one of the things that’s great about America is that we have the freedom to do anything that we want, as long as it doesn’t infringe on somebody else’s freedom,” said Boehner.
For the record, nothing in the Constitution says that an Act of Congress is unconstitutional simply because John Boehner thinks that it is “wrong.”