Harrisburg Federalists Society Hosts Debate on Affordable Care Act
Harrisburg Web Correspondent - Published: April 9, 2012


On Thursday, April 5, 2012 the Harrisburg campus Federalists Society hosted a debate between Associate Professor Michael R. Dimino, Sr. and Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute. The hour-long debate was held in the Pit before an audience of students and faculty.

From March 26 through March 28th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Florida v. HHS, better known as the Affordable Care Act case or the Obamacare case. Both Shaprio and Dimino expressed their opposing views on what the court will ultimately decide.

Professor Dimino explained that the act mandates every person to buy health insurance, which forces everyone into the health insurance pool. By mandating the purchase of health insurance, this would bring down health care costs.

Professor Dimino represented the liberal point of view and explained that the law will be deemed constitutional under the current Supreme Court doctrine particularly because of two cases. In Wickard v. Filburn, Congress put a quote on the amount of wheat that farmers may produce and sell on an open market. A farmer named Roscoe Filburn, decided to grow additional wheat for his own purposes such as making bread and feeding his livestock. The government said that he could not do that because Filburn was trying to avoid participating in the interstate wheat market. The Court decided that federal government was allowed to regulate Filburn’s wheat production because his production of more wheat than he was allotted was affecting interstate commerce.

Dimino also cited Gonzales v. Raich. In Gonzales, California wanted to let terminally ill patient’s access marijuana. However, federal law prohibits marijuana cultivation and use under the Controlled Substances Act, and therefore terminally ill patients would be violating federal law even though medicinal use of marijuana was legal in California. Despite arguments that the Commerce Clause had no relevance because the consumption and selling of the marijuana was solely in California and did not involve any interstate connection. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled that Congress did have the power to ban the growing of marijuana for medical use as a means of preventing or limiting access to marijuana for other uses.

Concluding that the rational used in Wickard and Gonzales supports the reasoning that the Affordable Care Act will be deemed constitutional, Professor Dimino noted that there would be a substantial impact on the country. Under the existing doctrine, he concluded that the law is constitutional.

Mr. Shapiro argued the conservative viewpoint. He emphasized the court’s unwillingness to draw a line where Congress can and cannot regulate under the Commerce Clause and that Congress can only regulate things that are enumerated.

“There has to be certain fundamental limiting principles where the Commerce Clause ends,” Mr. Shapiro said,” adding, “There has to be some sort of qualitative way to articulate some limiting principle. I think Wickard was wrongly decided.”

Shapiro articulated his belief that the solution to the issue of a limiting principle should be that Congress could regulate or prohibit, but not mandate. He concluded that he did not believe that the U.S. Supreme Court would deem the Affordable Care Act constitutional.

Following the debate, students and faculty were afforded the opportunity to ask questions of the participants.