Three U.S. Supreme Court decisions released this week are particularly relevant to State AGs and the scope of state power.
Yesterday, in a much anticipated decision, the Supreme Court largely upheld President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, concluding that the “individual mandate” is a constitutional validly-enacted tax pursuant to Congress’ taxing power. In the opinion, National Federal of Independent Business et al. v. Sebelius, Chief Justice Roberts, writing on behalf of the five-member majority, found that “[o]ur precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the exaction in §5000A under the taxing power, and that §5000A need not be read to do more than impose a tax. That is sufficient to sustain it.” 567 U.S. ___, 39 (2012). In other words, the Act was upheld because what is known as the “individual mandate” was not viewed by the majority as a mandate that Americans buy insurance, but rather as a tax if they do not, and as a tax, the “mandate” is constitutional. The majority did not find that the individual mandate was constitutional under the Commerce Clause or Necessary and Proper Clause—only four members of the Court made that finding. The Court also held that the Act’s requirement that States comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing all of their funding was unconstitutional. Instead, a State that refuses to participate in the Medicaid expansion would not lose its existing funds, but would not be able to receive the expansion funds. As we have previously reported, 26 States had petitioned the Court to challenge the constitutionality of the Act, while 12 States, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands urged that the Court uphold the law. We will be watching to see how these States and others States implement the Act post-decision. The nuances and deeper implications of the Court’s complex 193-page opinion will likely continue to be parsed over the weeks and months to come.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court also issued a decision in the campaign finance case American Tradition Partnership, Inc., v. Bullock, 567 U.S. ___ (2012). As we have previously discussed, 22 States and D.C. had filed amicus briefs in American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock asking the Supreme Court to uphold Montana’s election law, which bans corporate independent political expenditures in Montana state elections. On Monday, however, the Supreme Court reversed the Montana Supreme Court, finding in a 5-4 decision that Citizens United applies to Montana state law. The Supreme Court issued its summary reversal without briefing or oral argument. States are now on notice that attempts to distinguish their campaign finance laws from Citizens United likely will be rejected by federal courts.
Also on Monday, the Supreme Court issued a decision on Arizona’s 2010 immigration law in Arizona v. United States, upholding the provision requiring state law enforcement officials to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest if they have reasonable suspicion that the individual is in the country illegally. The other three provisions of the law were rejected: The Court held that (i) Arizona cannot make it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to seek employment; (ii) state officers cannot arrest someone on the belief that the person has committed an offense that makes him deportable; and (iii) Arizona cannot make it a misdemeanor for immigrants to not carry registration documents. The States were also divided on this law: 16 States had filed an amicus brief in support of the Arizona law, while 11 States opposed it. In the aftermath of this decision, States will be evaluating the consequences of this decision on their own state immigration laws and enforcement efforts.