Over the past two years, the Republican Party has slowly been building a permission structure for the five Republicans on the Supreme Court to feel comfortable doing something nobody thought they could do: Violate the existing understanding of the Commerce Clause and, in perhaps the most significant moment of judicial activism since the New Deal, overturn either all or part of the Affordable Care Act.
The first step was, perhaps, the hardest: The Republican Party had to take an official and unanimous stand against the wisdom and constitutionality of the individual mandate. Typically, it’s not that difficult for the opposition party to oppose the least popular element in the majority party’s largest initiative. But the individual mandate was a policy idea Republicans had thought of in the late-1980s and supported for two decades. They had, in effect, to convince every Republican to say that the policy they had been supporting was an unconstitutional assault on liberty.
But they succeeded. In December 2009 every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate unconstitutional. They did this even though a number of them had their names on bills that included an individual mandate. (For more on the political history of the mandate, see this post.)
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