ObamaCare proponents: what are the limits of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause? Are there any?

For example, can they have you arrested for growing your own food and eating it? After all, that could have an effect on "interstate trade."


ingsoc1, what is the basis for your statement that "Conservative courts have mostly left it up to congress"?

Actually, in U.S. v. Lopez, a conservative court set limits (albeit flimsy ones) to Commerce Clause power. It's the liberal justices, beginning around the New Deal, who found no regulation to be beyond the broad scope of Congressional power. Unless I'm missing something, I think your answer has no basis in fact.

Update 2:

Pat, thanks for your answer, which consists of the following: "It's not about the commerce clause, dumbass. It's about the general welfare clause. READ the Constitution you lazy twit."

Pat, I find it interesting that you are telling me to read the Constitution, when you failed even to read it past the Preamble. And for your future reference, you should understand what a preamble is. Here’s the definition from Dictionary.com:


an introductory statement; preface; introduction. Synonyms: opening, beginning; foreword, prologue, prelude. Antonyms: epilogue, appendix, conclusion, afterword, closing.


the introductory part of a statute, deed, or the like, stating the reasons and intent of what follows.

So, the preamble states the “reasons and intent” of what follows. In other words, the Commerce Clause (and the rest of the actual body of the Constitution) is to be read for what it says, while the Preamble merely explains why the Commerce Clause is included in the

Update 3:

...Constitution. The Preamble is given NO WEIGHT in judicial argument unless the argument is backed up by an actual clause in the actual body of the Constitution. Any first-year law student can tell you that.

Do you really think the entire health care argument put forth by the Government is going to rest on four measly words from the Preamble? Well, obviously you do, but you are dead wrong…which I would expect from someone who doesn’t know the difference between argument and name-calling.

And if you don’t believe me, check with the Supreme Court itself. See, for example this case: In United States v. Kinnebrew Motor Co., the defendants were a car manufacturer and dealership indicted for a criminal violation of the National Industrial Recovery Act. The Motor Company argued that Congress had no power to enact certain provisions of the NIRA under the Commerce Clause. The Government took your side of the argument, arguing that the Preamble's statement that the Constitution was creat

Update 4:

...created to "promote the general Welfare" should be understood to permit Congress to regulate transactions, even transactions that it had no business interfering with under the Commerce Clause. The Supreme Court sided with the Motor Company on that point, giving no weight to the words in the Preamble that were not substantively backed up with a clause from the actual body of the Constitution. Here is a quote from the judgment:

"Reference has been made in the government's brief to the ‘(General) Welfare Clause‘ of the Constitution as if certain powers could be derived by Congress from said clause. It is not necessary to indulge in an extended argument on this question for the reason that there is no such thing as the ‘Welfare Clause‘ of the Constitution."

So Pat, I hope you have learned something today…

7 Answers

  • Anonymous
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    The example you cite was in fact an actual case that was presented to the Supreme Court in 1942. It's called Wickard v. Filburn, and was about exactly what you are asking.

    A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption. The U.S. government had established limits on wheat production based on acreage owned by a farmer, in order to drive up wheat prices during the Great Depression, and Filburn was growing more than the limits permitted. Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, even though he was producing the excess wheat for his own use and had no intention of selling it.

    This is very similar, in many analyses, to the Individual Mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act. The United States Government is trying to drive DOWN the cost of health insurance by mandating that everyone own it, thus paying into the "premium pool". Just like Filburn was ordered to destroy his crops and pay a fine, anyone "caught" not owning this product - regardless of whether or not this person could pay for all of his medical expenses out of pocket - would be fined and possibly imprisoned.

    A later case, United States v. Lopez (1995) was the first decision in six decades to invalidate a federal statute on the grounds that it exceeded the power of the Congress under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

    The opinion described Wickard v. Filburn as "perhaps the most far reaching example of Commerce Clause authority over intrastate commerce." Lopez held that while Congress had broad lawmaking authority under the Commerce Clause, the power was limited, and did not extend so far from "commerce" as to authorize the regulation of the carrying of handguns, especially when there was no evidence that carrying them affected the economy on a massive scale.[2]

    So the statute that arose from the first case, Wikard v. Filburn, was invalidated sixty years later as being a gross over-reach by Congress, and represented an excessive grab for power on the part of the US Government.

    The "slippery slope" argument has merit - If the federal government can require individuals to purchase health insurance, then there is no stopping point. The federal government can require us all to eat broccoli if that would help the broccoli industry or make us healthier (Scalia) and to buy burial insurance to avoid the risk that when we die the government will have to dispose of our bodies at public expense (Alito).

    If it can be proven that weight loss, a low fat diet, regular exercise and restricted alcohol intake will also help bring down the cost of healthcare by making a majority of Americans healthy, then this interpretation of the Commerce Clause sets a strong precedent that those activities too can be regulated by the government. Imagine a world where the government not only mandates that you OWN health insurance, but that you USE it to get regular checkups. Imagine further that you may be subject to a fine if you are more than 10 lbs overweight - and that fine will increase with every pound, just like tax rates do. I don't think this "slope" is all that unimaginable.

    I think that "Fried Kitten" has a reasonable argument, but she is missing a very important point. Her argument is based on "If we continue on the path we are on", as though there are only two choices. There are several dozen proposals, several dozen ideas, several dozen ways in which our current healthcare difficulties can be eased or even solved - and none of these have been tried before.

    The question before the Supreme Court is an extremely important one, and it is all about whether or not we have a problem that can ONLY be solved by heavy handed Government interference, and a re-interpretation of the Commerce Clause that can have a far-reaching effect on all of our lives.

    For all of you liberals who believe that this is the answer - you should understand that laws like this set precedents; there is no such thing as "Just This Once", and this landmark case will be tested over and over and over again every time the Government wants to exercise additional control over our lives. This time you agree with it - this time it is YOUR president in whom you believe very strongly - but next time it might be (gasp) a Republican who wants to take the power for reasons you strongly oppose. By the precedent set by this case, that power grab will be far easier for him.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    The Supreme Court is not setting new precedents, only interpreting existing law as it applies to the health care provisions. The thing you mentioned is not being challenged in court and until it is, no one can answer that. Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce if buying health insurance commerce is business or commercial exchange. I would have to read the entire clause to answer whether there are limits.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    9 years ago


    The bigger question, that you seem to be ignoring, is this:

    If we continue on the current path without an individual mandate we shall see

    the govt continue to accumulate National Debt, in part, due to funding free

    healthcare for people who have no insurance or who simply don’t pay.

    So if you are going to argue that govt should not impose an individual mandate

    then you should also acknowledge that the govt is not obligated to borrow in

    order to fund free healthcare. So hospitals can refuse to provide free healthcare

    or they can close their doors due to bankruptcy.

    So while you are deliberating the limits of the Commerce Clause you are ignoring

    the problem of the National Debt.

  • 9 years ago

    I find your example very interesting. YES.

    Why? Because in a ruling a few years back, the SC ruled that the federal gov't could arrest those growing and using marijuana, which would never be moved across state lines. The rationale is that it would effect the interstate trade of marijuana, illegal though it may be.

    I've linked to the case. read Scalia's opinion on this.

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  • Pat
    Lv 7
    9 years ago

    It's not about the commerce clause, dumbass.

    It's about the general welfare clause.

    READ the Constitution you lazy twit.

  • ?
    Lv 7
    7 years ago

    The claim anybody wants to stop you growing your own food is pathetic Alex Jones pap for idiots.

  • 9 years ago

    Conservative courts have mostly left it up to congress, which passed obamacare incidentally

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