July 31, 2012
What Does the Health Care Ruling Mean for Environmental Law?
Most environmental laws—such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and CERCLA—are based on the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes Congress to regulate interstate commerce. The recent constitutional challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its "individual mandate" to purchase health insurance seemed certain to write a new chapter in Commerce Clause jurisprudence—with potential implications for environmental laws. The U.S. Supreme Court in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius heard arguments that Congress cannot compel individuals to enter commerce by purchasing health insurance and that doing so would exceed Congress’s constitutional authority.
In a blockbuster ruling, the Court surprised most observers by upholding the individual mandate under the Taxing Clause. But a majority of the court also held that ACA’s Medicaid expansion violates the Spending Clause by threatening non-complying states with a loss of existing funding. And five justices—the Chief Justice and four dissenters—concluded in separate opinions that the ACA runs afoul of the Commerce Clause. Given this outcome, what are its implications for environmental law? Will the Spending Clause ruling have consequences for the Clean Air Act or other environmental laws? Could the opinions on the Commerce Clause fuel new challenges to the scope of existing environmental laws, such as the ESA? Does this ruling suggest a rift among the Court’s conservative justices, and what might this mean for future cases?
Bruce Myers, Senior Staff Attorney, ELI (moderator)
Jonathan Adler, Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University School of Law
James May, Professor of Law, Widener Law
David Weinberg, Partner, Wiley Rein LLP
Slip Opinion, National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius
Jonathan Adler, "Could the Health Care Decision Hobble the Clean Air Act?"
Jonathan Adler, "Lose the battle, win the war?"
James May, "What Does the Health Care Ruling Mean for Environmental Law?: Commerce, Necessary and Proper, and Tax Clauses"