Roy Blount, Jr.—author, humorist, poet, reporter, performer, and frequent guest on Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!—once wrote the following:
The local groceries are all out of broccoli,
It’s a terse rhyming couplet that probably expresses the way many people feel about the green cruciferous vegetable. I don’t know how Antonin Scalia feels about eating broccoli—but I do know that the nutritious vegetable has been getting a lot of press lately due to remarks that the Justice made about it and the health care mandate during the recent Supreme Court hearings on the Affordable Care Act:
“Could you define the market — everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food,” Scalia said, discussing a hypothetical. “Therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.”
He added, “Does that expand your ability to, to issue mandates to the people?”
Some journalists and bloggers believe that Justice Scalia didn’t come up with that bad broccoli analogy on his own. They think he may be echoing GOP and conservative media talking points on the ACA.
In The Baltimore Sun, Dan Rodricks wrote:
His fans keeping telling us of the brilliance of Justice Scalia — so brilliant, no one can touch him. But the broccoli hypothetical didn’t strike me as particularly brilliant. It sounded more Limbaughian than anything else, some conservative talking point on Obamacare circulated by the Republican Party.
“There’s no doubt that lack of exercise causes illness, and that causes health care costs to go up,” Justice Scalia said, as the audition continued. “So the federal government says everybody has to join an exercise club.”
This wasn’t genuine judicial probing. This was cheap, sound-bite rhetoric that betrayed a predisposed hostility toward the law.
From David Lyle of Media Matters:
Rush Limbaugh and Fox News have promoted the right-wing talking point that any reading of the Constitution that supports the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance would also permit Congress to require all Americans to purchase broccoli. In doing so, they frighten their audience with the specter of limitless federal government power. This slippery slope argument turns out, however, to be too slippery by half, and it gets both the Constitution and the facts of the health care marketplace wrong.
Limbaugh’s “broccoli mandate” talking point is refuted by economists who argue that the individual mandate is an appropriate response to the serious problem of consumers with preexisting conditions being unable to purchase insurance in the health care market. Furthermore, legal experts argue that the Constitution gives Congress the power to adopt the mandate, and this power does not extend to absurd hypotheticals such as a requirement to purchase broccoli.
Limbaugh on his imagined broccoli mandate: ”Mr. New Castrati, if they can force us to buy health insurance, they can force us to buy broccoli…. Once you people get it in your heads that you can force us to buy health insurance, what’s to stop you from making us buy a stupid electric car?” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/1/11, emphasis added]
In addition to injecting right-wing talking points into the discussions on the ACA, it appears that Scalia may not be as knowledgeable about the act as he might like some people to think. The associate justice brought up the “11th-hour deal” that the Democrats made with Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska in order to secure his vote:
“It’s clear that Congress would not have passed it without that. You are telling us that the whole statute would fall because the Cornhusker kickback is bad.”
Actually, what we know is that the “Cornhusker kickback” — a rightwing term of art — is not in the Affordable Care Act at all. Scalia was repeating something he heard on his radio or on his TV. It was eliminated before the bill passed. So Scalia was constructing his “hypothetical” around something that is no more part of the ACA than the public option is. He’s just not trying very hard anymore. Neither, apparently, are many of his defenders. (Charles P. Pierce, Esquire)
In his article for TPMDC titled Scalia Echoes GOP Buzzwords Against ‘Obamacare’, Sahil Kapur provides a number of right-wing talking points—including broccoli, the Cornhusker kickback, execrcise, and the Tenth Amandment—that Scalia brought up during the hearings:
“I mean, the 10th Amendment says the powers not given to the Federal Government are reserved, not just to the States, but to the States and the people,” Scalia said Tuesday, arguing that the court has held certain laws “reasonably adapted” but not “proper” because they “violated the sovereignty of the States, which was implicit in the constitutional structure.”
The 10th Amendment argument is a common line of attack by Republicans, including Mitt Romney, invoked to argue that ‘Obamacare’ tramples states rights. And though the states challenging the law claim the Medicaid expansion violates the 10th Amendment, Scalia cited it in reference to the individual mandate.
Charles Fried, who served as President Reagan’s Solicitor General, was critical not only of Scalia but also of the other conservative justices who appear to oppose the ACA. He thinks their opposition to it is about “politics, politics, politics.”
From Media Matters:
Fried has been “scaldingly critical” of Scalia and other conservative justices for their willingness to “traffic in some of the most well-worn Tea Party tropes about Obamacare” according to the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent. Sargent quotes Fried:
“I was appalled to see that at least a couple of them were repeating the most tendentious of the Tea Party type arguments …. I even heard about broccoli. The whole broccoli argument is beneath contempt. To hear it come from the bench was depressing.”
Charles P. Pierce thinks that Justice Scalia is bored, has already begun his retirement, and really isn’t putting in much of an effort any longer:
It’s been clear for some time now that he’s short-timing his job on the Supreme Court. The job bores him. All these inferior intellects coming before him. All those inferior intellects on the bench with him, now with some other Catholics who aren’t even as Catholic as he is, Scalia being the last living delegate who attended the Council of Trent. Inferior Catholics with inferior minds. What can a fellow do? He hung in there as long as he could, but he’s now bringing Not Giving A Fuck to an almost operatic level…
It is plain now that Scalia simply doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act on its face. It has nothing to do with “originalism,” or the Commerce Clause, or anything else. He doesn’t think that the people who would benefit from the law deserve to have a law that benefits them. On Tuesday, he pursued the absurd “broccoli” analogy to the point where he sounded like a micro-rated evening-drive talk-show host from a dust-clotted station in southern Oklahoma. And today, apparently, he ran through every twist and turn in the act’s baroque political history in an attempt to discredit the law politically, rather than as a challenge to its constitutionality. (What in hell does the “Cornhusker Kickback” — yet another term of art that the Justice borrowed from the AM radio dial — have to do with the severability argument? Is Scalia seriously making the case that a banal political compromise within the negotiations from which bill eventually is produced can affect its ultimate constitutionality? Good luck ever getting anything passed if that’s the standard.) He’s really just a heckler at this point. If he can’t do any better than that, he’s right. Being on the court is a waste of his time.
Former Reagan Official Debunks “Broccoli” Mandate Charge
We’ll now have to wait until June to find out how the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable care Act. I hope ideology doesn’t rule the day.
Broccoli and Bad Faith (New York Times)
Roy Blount, Jr. (The Atlantic)
Justice Scalia briefing papers: Right-wing blogs (Daily Kos)
Scalia wonders about a broccoli mandate (Politico)
Conservative Judicial Activists Run Amok (New York Magazine)
The Individual Mandate: Not a Slippery Slope (The American Prospect)