Constitutional debate at Coast

Erwin Chemerinsky discusses President Barack Obama’s health care plan in the Robert B. Moore Theatre.

Two legal scholars discussed the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s health care plan in front of a packed Robert B. Moore Theatre today as the first day of the college’s Constitution Day program kicked off on campus.

Founding dean of UC Irvine’s Law School Erwin Chemerinsky, and former dean of Chapman University’s Law School John Eastman, who both make regular appearances on local and national media for their commentary of legal issues, disagreed on the legality of the act. 

Calling the plan “a reasonable mandate,” Chemerinsky said it “will make way for a more available and more affordable healthcare system.”

The scholar also questioned whether Congress could legally pass a law to mandate universal healthcare and to raise taxes on those who opt out.

Chemerinsky said the act passed through Congress is constitutional under the commerce clause of the United States Constitution.

Healthcare is defined as commerce in the United States, which Congress has the ability to regulate and tax, he said. With this argument, Chemerinsky said Congress has the power to tax those whom opt out of the government healthcare option.

“It is an easy constitutional question,” he said. “The Supreme Court of the United States cannot block it under the necessary and proper clause. The courts should refrain from constitutional laws and let Congress decide,” Chemerinsky said.

Eastman disagreed. The constitutionality of the act is not valid because healthcare is not a national issue but a local one, he said.

“We are going to subsidize the unhealthy people’s healthcare costs by taking money from the healthy people. It is illegitimate of the government to do so, as well as unconstitutional,” Eastman said.

Eastman, who was previously a clerk for the Supreme Court, said that healthcare policies should be reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment.

“The Supreme Court only hears on average one percent of all cases brought to it. However, when several courts of appeals are referring cases to the Supreme Court, there would be a greater chance for a constitutional decision on this issue,” Eastman said.

Constitution Day will continue Wednesday with a trio of guest speakers including Jerry Patterson, a Coast Community College District board of trustee and former mayor and congressman, and OCC political science instructors Herrick Arnold and Rendell Drew at 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. in the Giles Brown Forum.

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