The Congressional Regulation of Inactivity
As the briefs in the Affordable Care Act litigation are still being filed before the Supreme Court, I was intrigued by this new paper by Professor Corey Yung on “The Incredible Ordinariness of Federal Penalties for Inactivity that sheds new light on the problem before the Justices. Here is the Abstract:
Those arguing that insurance mandate in the recent health care reform legislation, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), is unconstitutional have prominently and repeatedly advanced the claim that the mandate’s punishment of personal inactivity is an unprecedented exercise of federal power. That contention is simply and unequivocally false. Federal criminal law contains scores of provisions that facially or in application punish inactivity by individuals. These criminal statutes regulating inaction include not just traditional crimes by omission where a common law duty is violated, but also offenses related to registration, record keeping, possession, receipt, preventive measures, nondisclosure, organizational, misprision, and obstruction. By providing this account of criminal laws punishing and regulating inactivity, this Essay puts the ACA’s insurance mandate in the larger context of federal laws at issue if the mandate is held to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The case of the ACA in regard to the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses is not merely about the enforcement mechanism used for a single health care law as many have contended–it is about the shape and scope of federal criminal law that has been in place for over fifty years.
Of course, if you try to dismiss Professor Yung’s examples as the regulation of “activities,” then the decision not to purchase health care is probably also an activity.