As lawyers, we're often the "go-to" source of information for friends and family whenever something big happens in the law. Forget the fact that most of us specialize in one area, or that we're generally way too busy to keep on top of everything. When people want to know, they expect us to tell them in a way that makes sense. Last week's landmark health care decision was no exception. Consistent with our mission to help Michigan lawyers be a source of sane and reliable information to the lay public, we've been scouring the news for a good, plain English explanation of the health care decision that you can use to impress -- make that enlighten -- curious friends and family. Ryan Witt provided one of the better summaries we've seen at examiner.com, but even his breakdown still requires some breaking down, and might be a little much for some to chew on. Here's our even simpler attempt:
- First, the Court had to decide whether it had the authority to decide the issues at all. There was an argument that the court couldn't decide the issues until someone was actually "taxed" for failing to purchase health insurance. But the Court rejected that argument on the grounds that Congress intended the payment as a "penalty" and not a tax. The Court decided it could decide.
- Second, the Court had to decide whether the individual mandate was constitutional. A majority did not buy the Administration's argument that Congress had authority to impose the mandate by virtue of its powers under the Constitution's Commerce Clause or the Necessary and Proper Clause, but five justices agreed that Congress could impose the mandate by virtue of its power to tax. A writer for the Supreme Court's blog said it best when he wrote that the Court didn't see the mandate as an order for Americans to buy insurance, but rather as a tax if they don't.
- Third, the Court had to decide whether the government had the power to pull all Medicaid funding from states that failed to provide Medicaid to all Americans under 65 with an income below 133% of the poverty level. The Court said this went a little too far, calling it more of a "gun to the head" than acceptable "financial inducement." Still, it said the federal government could induce states to comply, just not in such an all-or-nothing fashion.
If what your family and friends really want to talk about is if, whether, or why the Chief Justice changed his vote on the constitutionality of the act, we've got nothing.