More Bad News for the Federal Government’s Argument that the Individual Mandate is a Tax

Yesterday, I pointed out that even many of the liberal Supreme Court justices were skeptical of arguments that the individual mandate qualifies as a tax under the Anti-Injunction Act, and suggested that this was not a good sign for the federal government’s claim that the mandate is a tax authorized by the Tax Clause of the Constitution.

Today’s oral argument directly considered the constitutional tax issue, and at least three of the four liberal justices – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor – remain skeptical. Sotomayor suggested that the government’s Tax Clause argument is flawed because it has no “limiting principle.” Ginsburg again contended that the mandate is not a tax because it isn’t a “revenue-raising” measure. And Kagan pressed the Solicitor General on why it should be considered “irrelevant” that “Congress determinedly said, this is not a tax.” Needless to say, the conservative justices were no more supportive of the federal government’s Tax Clause claim than the liberals.

I don’t know who is going to win on the Commerce Clause and Necessary and Proper Clause questions. The plaintiffs’ position is looking pretty good. Still, I would not be surprised if the federal government managed to pull it out. But I am now quite confident that the feds are not going to prevail on the Tax Clause.

If Kagan and Sotomayor do end up concluding that the mandate is not a tax, that will be consistent with the views of the president who appointed them.