“Today Chief Justice Roberts provided a well-reasoned legal analysis based on precedent.
In doing so, he helped bolster confidence in the United States Supreme Court, while dispelling the view that all controversial cases are decided on party lines.
In his opinion, he noted that every reasonable construction of a statute must be considered, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality. He then showed that for over 100 years the Supreme Court has looked at the substance of an enactment to determine whether it is a tax, rather than whether Congress chose to label the enactment a tax.
He then demonstrated that taxes designed to influence behavior are hardly new, and that some of the very first taxes enacted by the Federal Government were designed to deter the purchase of imported manufactured goods in order to foster the growth of domestic industry. In fact almost every tax influences behavior, and often influencing behavior is the primary intent. For example, cigarette taxes are designed to reduce smoking as much as they are to provide revenue.
Roberts then pointed out that the payment due from those who do not purchase health insurance is not a punishment to be imposed on “outlaws.” Rather it is estimated that 4 million people every year will choose to pay the IRS rather than buy insurance and that those people are acting reasonably and lawfully—they are not wrongdoers being punished.
Finally Roberts pointed out that Congress’ power to regulate commerce is more restricted than its power to impose taxes, but even its power to impose taxes is not unlimited. Here the tax must be paid by those not buying insurance is not so punitive that Congress has effectively used the tax power to compel. Rather Congress has imposed a system in which it is estimated that 4 million people will decide to pay the tax.
Today I am proud to be a member of the Harvard Law School class of 1979, the class that included Chief Justice Roberts.”