In 1992, the Republicans promoted a health care plan to compete with the White House’s Hillarycare. In the end, neither was passed, and health care reform was taken off the table. Upon taking office, Barack Obama, in direct contradiction to his campaign promises, picked up the Republican plan and passed it. The Republicans are furious about this, referring to their own plan as socialist, Marxist, etc. Libertarians can laugh at the entire spectacle – until we get sick, of course.
In any case, the most offensive and obviously illiberal part of the plan is the individual mandate. A group of Attorneys General challenged that aspect of the law, arguing that it was unconstitutional to require people to purchase specific products from a small group of specific companies. They were right, of course. The Supreme Court ruled differently, of course. Since the mandate does not have as a remedy jail time, but rather a fine, the Court simply redefined the fine as a tax, and ruled that the entire mandate falls under the power to tax.
This is an interesting legal argument, to be sure, but leaves a gaping hole. My challenge to those who oppose the Affordable Care Act, particularly the Attorneys General who filed the lawsuit, is: are you willing to make use of the gaping hole, in other areas, to promote other freedoms? More to the point – will you do so when it would free people who cannot vote?
This ruling clearly implies that any individual mandate, any legal requirement to buy or use a product from a limited number of vendors, is unconstitutional and illegal if the remedy cannot be classified as a tax. This would not apply to, say, car insurance, because, it would be argued, the choice to buy a car is a voluntary one. So a mandate, under this decision, is only unconstitutional if it applies by virtue of pure existence, and if the penalty for non-compliance is non-monetary.
There is a group of people in this country who face precisely such a mandate. There is a group of people, a rather large group, all of whom are forbidden to vote, who face the requirement to either make use of a particular government service or purchase a government-approved alternative, or prepare a government-approved alternative at home (although this last option is constantly in jeopardy.) They face this requirement, not in light of any voluntary action, such as owning a car, but rather simply by virtue of age. I refer, of course, to students and mandatory school attendance.
I will, no doubt, be referred to Jefferson and his comments about an educated population. I note that Jefferson, living 100 years before Horace Mann, did not, at any time in his career, propose a mandatory school attendance policy, or even a public education system. If he did not believe that his comments justified such laws, I find it hard to see why others should either. Further, Jefferson referred to an educated population, not a schooled…