When Karl Manheim spoke at LMU’s Constitution Convocation Day, he posed a question much like the question that faced the nation’s founders 224 years ago: “Are we merely a confederation of sovereign states, like struggling Europe, or are we a nation, the United States of America?” Manheim endorsed the latter choice.
Manheim’s topic for Tuesday’s convocation was “Is President Obama’s Health Care Law Constitutional?” He offered a historical and economic analysis of the states’ rights-based challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 that are now working their way through the court system. And he made his point plain: “There is no such thing as local commerce anymore. Whatever rights states had to regulate economic activity in 1787 is no longer pertinent.”
Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, once known as Citizens Day, became a federal day of observance in 2004 to commemorate the day, Sept. 17, when the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787. It also recognizes all who have become U.S. citizens.
Manheim, who joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1984, said that “a century and a half after the Civil War and two and a quarter centuries after the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation, the states’ rights controversy has not abated one bit. It is the most persistent and enduring struggle involved in American constitutional law.” But in his recounting, the movement toward union and away from fragmented states’ rights – the notion that under the Constitution, the United States is a government of limited, enumerated powers – was as clear as it was necessary.
States’ rights consumed the debate after the Articles of Confederation collapsed and the Constitutional Convention was called. “Still, some anti-federalists never accepted defeat,” Manheim said. “Seventy-three years later, the nation was torn asunder in the Civil War, the War Between the States, the Great Federalist War. Among other things, the war renewed the constitutional debate over states' rights. The Union won that war, but the Confederacy was never defeated in the hearts of those who believed that sovereignty should lay with the states, rather than with the United States.”
In making his case for a strong federal government, Manheim noted the national nature of the health care market today. In particular, he said that health care is the second-largest sector of the U.S. economy, comprising 18 percent of the gross domestic product, about $2.7 trillion a year. But 50 million Americans are uninsured, one-sixth of the population, and more are underinsured.
He also recapped the progress of the challenges to the health care reform legislation: Two district courts ruled it unconstitutional; three have declared that it is constitutional; the federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld it; the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated it. “And yet another, the 4th Circuit, just last week punted for lack of jurisdiction,” he added.
As the legislation heads to the Supreme Court, Manheim said the justices’ decision will have a profound effect on the national and even the international economies. The Supreme Court could resurrect the views of 100 years ago and severely limit Congress’ powers. “Or,” he said, “it can recognize the vision of the framers of the Constitution to create a strong and enduring national government, in their terms ‘a more perfect union.’ ”