Even though it is Congress’s first enumerated power, appearing in the Constitution ahead of the power to regulate interstate commerce, the tax power doesn’t get much attention in court cases, law journals, or newspaper articles. It is, however, the Constitution’s hidden giant. The Constitution doesn’t express many limits on the scope of the tax power, other than the requirement that taxing (and spending) must be “for the General Welfare.” And the Supreme Court has interpreted Congress’s tax power broadly, finding taxes constitutional even when they have regulatory effects that Congress could not have achieved directly under the Commerce Clause.
Constitutional scholars have been debating whether the individual mandate of the health care act, which inserts into the tax code a penalty that applies to certain people who fail to purchase private insurance, exceeds Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause. Suits against the federal government in Virginia and Florida by the attorneys general of 20 states claim that the health care law—in particular the individual mandate—is unconstitutional because it exceeds Congress’s constitutionally enumerated powers. Continue reading "Just How Broad is the Tax Power?"