April 6, 2012
By Michael Lind
“The Supreme Court is completely out of control – just like virtually every other government organization.” –KTRN
On Monday, we had another example of the Supreme Court’s ideological division: a 5-4 ruling, along partisan lines, giving police the right to conduct strip searches for any offense. This came on the heels of last week’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the Affordable Care Act, which led many observers to predict that the nation’s highest judicial body will strike down part or all of the controversial healthcare reform package. But the hearings were instructive in other ways. They showed once again that political partisanship is closely correlated to a justice’s view of the law. And they proved that the Supreme Court once again is functioning, not as a court, but as a third house of the federal legislature.
The U.S. Constitution, like many state constitutions, really is two constitutions in one. There is the black-letter constitution, which consists of rules about which there is little or no dispute. Most of these have to do with qualifications for representatives, like Article I, Section 3, Clause 1, as amended: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.” Not a whole lot of room for interpretation there.
The other constitution, embedded in the same document, is the Blank Constitution. It is not so much a limit on power as an assignment of the power to fill in blanks left in the text, like the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” The need to fill in the blank is admitted even by champions of the “original intent theory,” who must dig up historical evidence of what the drafters and ratifiers might have thought was cruel and unusual punishment at the time of the Constitution’s adoption. The answer is not contained in the text.
March 27, 2012
By Steve Watson
Appearing on Bloomberg News today, GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul said he suspects that the Supreme Court will rule it is Constitutional for the government to uphold a mandate requiring most Americans to buy health insurance.
Oral arguments begin this week on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ‘Obamacare’. All the GOP candidates have pledged to repeal the law.
“I suspect they’re going to rule it constitutional, but that is a big guess out of thin air,” Paul said, adding, “this Supreme Court is slightly better than in the past, [but] they haven’t done a real good job in defending the free market and the original intent of the Interstate Commerce Clause.”
Government lawyers are using the commerce clause as an essential part of their argument for the constitutionality of the individual mandate, which would take effect in 2014.
Paul, who has called Obamacare an “unconstitutional monstrosity”, told Bloomberg that it would “be a real tragedy” if the Supreme Court were to support the law.
During the interview, the Congressman also addressed the ongoing GOP nomination race and defended his vow to stay in the race right up to the national convention.
“Why should we quit and say, ‘OK, it’s getting late, so we all have to get together and quit debating the issues’? No, I think the debate should go on,” he said. “It’s not like this is the first time they didn’t have a candidate by this time in the cycle. The Democrats didn’t have one by this go-around, didn’t happen until June. I don’t think it hurts to debate the issues.”
Paul added that he will not drop out because he is the only candidate “really discussing the alternative to our foreign policy, monetary policy or our financial crisis and spending” as well as “militarism overseas.”
December 28, 2011
By Kelly Kennedy
In a year that included an attempted House repeal of the federal health care law, several court cases challenging its constitutionality and Republican candidate debates proposing a replacement plan, it can be difficult to dig through the rhetoric to determine just what the 2010 health care law has done.
The 2,400-page document and a multiyear and multistep implementation don’t help with the confusion.
Proponents and foes say big pieces of the law have been enacted and have already affected millions of people’s lives.
“It’s complicated, but there are very many benefits affecting millions of people,” said Don Berwick, who served as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services until the beginning of December. “They will not know it’s the Affordable Care Act, but it is.”
In 2011, the law targeted specific groups of people — mostly the young and senior citizens — while the most argued about pieces won’t come until 2014. Then, assuming the Supreme Court doesn’t rule against the “individual mandate,” the provision that requires most Americans to buy health insurance, millions more people will be affected.
Health insurance exchanges for people who don’t receive insurance through their employers will start working as Medicaid expands through federal funding to include more people who can’t afford insurance. Lower-income Americans will receive help paying their premiums.
September 13, 2011
By: Igor Volsky
Texas Tribune’s Jay Root notices that presidential candidate Rick Perry (R-TX) is backing away from his controversial executive order mandating young girls to receive the HPV immunization. The EO, issued in February 2007, sparked a backlash within Perry’s own party and eventually led the state legislature to override the order. Perry succumbed to the lawmakers’ wishes, but continued to defend his plan until he began campaigning to win the GOP nomination for president. Below is a short timeline of Perry’s evolution on the issue:
FEBRUARY 5, 2007 — ‘DOESN’T PROMOTE PROMISCUITY’: “Providing the HPV vaccine doesn’t promote sexual promiscuity any more than the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use. If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it, claiming it would encourage smoking?”
MAY 9, 2007 — ‘OPPONENTS MISLED PUBLIC’: “I challenge legislators to look these women in the eyes and tell them, ‘We could have prevented this disease for your daughters and granddaughters, but we just didn’t have the gumption to address all the misguided and misleading political rhetoric.‘”
JANUARY 2010 — ‘STAND PROUDLY BY IT’: “I always stand for life. That issue was about being pro-life. No sir, [it was not an error], not from my position. I’m about pro-life. As a matter of fact, that piece of legislation was not mandatory. In the sense that, if you can say no, something is not mandatory. And so I stand proudly by my pro-life position.”
SEPTEMBER 2010 — ‘DID WHAT WAS RIGHT’: “Let me tell you why it wasn’t a bad idea: Even though that was the result I was looking for, and that becoming the standard procedure for protecting young women against this very heinous deadly dreadful disease, it caused a national debate. I knew was going to take a political hit … at the end of the day, I did what was right from my perspective, and I did something that saved people’s lives and, you know, that’s a big deal.”
AUGUST 14, 2011 — ‘DIDN’T DO MY RESEARCH’: “I signed an executive order that allowed for an opt-out, but the fact of the matter is that I didn’t do my research well enough to understand that we needed to have a substantial conversation with our citizenry”…Instead of making the vaccine mandatory, “what we should of done was a program that frankly allowed them to opt in or some type of program like that.”
The January quote from his debate with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who was then challenging Perry for the governorship, is particularly telling since Perry tried to portray the order as not mandating a vaccination. And while the measure did allow parents “to submit a request for a conscientious objection affidavit form,” it specifically mandated the vaccine for all female children before they entered middle school:
Rules. The Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner shall adopt rules that mandate the age appropriate vaccination of all female children for HPV prior to admission to the sixth grade.
Unlike Perry’s order, the Affordable Care Act does not use the term “mandate,” but instead requires individuals who don’t obtain coverage to pay a penalty. The law also allows religious organizations and those who can’t afford coverage to opt out the requirement, thus fitting Perry’s definition of “not mandatory.”
September 7, 2010
by Steve Sternberg
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius says the federal Affordable Care Act mandates for the first time that Medicare and private health plans offer flu vaccine coverage without co-pays or deductibles. Uninsured children are covered under the federal Vaccines for Children program.
“That will keep people healthy on the front end,” Sebelius says.
The elimination of cost as a barrier to vaccination comes at a key moment, with health officials now recommending that nearly everyone get a flu shot, except for children younger than 6 months and those with egg allergies.
Vaccine makers are even offering the first high-potency vaccine for those 65 and older, to see whether a stronger vaccine offers better protection to those with aging immune systems.
This year’s vaccine protects against 2009 H1N1, or swine, flu and the two other flu viruses that also are expected to cause disease this year. Three strains of flu have begun to spread in the USA, swine flu among them, health officials say. Roughly 60% of Americans are believed to be susceptible to swine flu — those who dodged the virus last year and weren’t vaccinated against it.
“We could still have a bad year,” says Trish Perl, a flu expert at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.
Ann Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, says no one can predict how the year will turn out, partly because no obvious pattern surfaced during winter flu season in the Southern Hemisphere.
One of the three strains now circulating in the USA is H3N2, a variety often linked to more serious disease and death. “H3N2 hasn’t really hit the U.S. in large numbers yet. We do think most people will be susceptible to this,” Schuchat says.
Fortunately, she says, this year’s seasonal flu vaccine protects against H3N2. “We are recommending that when you see vaccine, get vaccinated. You don’t have to worry, if you get vaccinated now, that you’ll need another shot in January.”
Unlike last year, when the swine flu pandemic peaked before vaccine was widely available, the world’s five flu vaccine makers three weeks ago began shipping out the first of nearly 165 million flu vaccine doses slated for use in the USA. About 30 million doses are now available through doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other retailers, or will be soon.
Navy surgeon Henry Lin of Bethesda, Md., has embarked on his own crusade to promote flu shots, an effort driven by personal tragedy. Lin’s son, Trevor, 7, died Nov. 2 of swine flu after developing a secondary bacterial infection. At the time, flu vaccine was in short supply.
Trevor, who had been healthy, didn’t awaken enough concern in emergency room doctors to prompt them to prescribe Tamiflu, then often held in reserve for high-risk patients.
About 30 hours after he left the emergency room, he collapsed and stopped breathing, Lin says. An autopsy revealed that, in addition to flu, he had developed a bacterial super-infection. “It’s not just sick kids who are getting this. It’s healthy kids,” he says.
Says Schuchat: “We can’t perfectly predict who’s going to have a horrible time with influenza and who isn’t. A vaccine is the best way to protect against it.
“No one wants to be in the shoes of that father.”