Professor, law students discuss constitutionality of Obama healthcare overhaul

Story by Philip Hadley and Steven Lacks

It’s been more than a year since President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), but the Stetson Law community, like much of the rest of America, remains abuzz over the contentious legislation.

Professor Michael Allen talks with students about Obama's healthcare overhaul on Oct. 24.

Professor Michael Allen talks with students about Obama's healthcare overhaul on Oct. 25. Photo by Steven Lacks.

In a room packed with law students, Professor Michael Allen gave a presentation on the constitutionality of PPACA for Stetson Law’s American Constitution Society in Gulfport on Oct. 25.

Professor Allen began his presentation with a brief history of cases he anticipates will influence the Supreme Court, should the constitutionality question make it that far up the judicial ladder.

Three federal appellate courts have already issued decisions. The 6th Circuit, pointing to the effect of health care on interstate commerce, ruled two-to-one that the individual mandate clause is constitutional, while the 11th Circuit ruled two-to-one in the opposite direction. The 4th Circuit, in contrast, declined to decide the constitutionality question entirely, citing procedural grounds.

“These cases collectively provide the Supreme Court with the opportunity to address a wide range of constitutional issues, ranging from the power of Congress to ‘tax’ or ‘regulate commerce among the several states,’” Professor Allen said. “But they also provide the means for the justices to avoid the constitutional issues entirely by relying on a statute that could limit the jurisdiction of the federal courts to enjoin certain revenue raising statutes.” 

Ultimately, the question of whether the individual mandate is constitutional might never reach the Supreme Court; the Court may not even decide whether or not to hear the case until next year.

“It is a cliché,” Professor Allen said, “but only time will tell how the Court decides to confront this issue, let alone how it will ultimately be resolved.”