Supreme Court Upholds Individual Mandate

WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday the federal healthcare law’s individual mandate survives as a tax, handing a huge victory to President Obama.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the prevailing 59-page opinion, abandoned his fellow conservatives and said the mandate can’t be upheld under Congress’ broad power to regulate interstate commerce but can be upheld under its power to tax in the Constitution’s spending clause.

The ruling by any standard is an enormous legal and political victory for Obama, who hailed the decision as “good for the country … good for the American people.”

“I didn’t do this because it was good politics,” Obama said, adding discussions about who wins and who loses under the decision misses the point: “It was a victory for people all over this country whose lives will be more secure.”

Obama’s likely opponent in November, Republican Mitt Romney, disagreed vowing, if he’s elected, to “repeal and replace Obamacare.”

“It did not say it is good law or good policy. It was bad policy yesterday and it’s bad policy today. It was bad law yesterday and bad law today,” Romney said.

“Our precedent demonstrates that Congress had the power to impose the [penalty for failing to buy health insurance] under the taxing power, and that [the relevant section of the Affordable Care Act] need not be read to do more than impose a tax. This is sufficient to sustain it,” Roberts wrote.

The individual mandate is set to be implemented in 2014. When it does come into play, anyone who can afford insurance and doesn’t purchase it could be fined as much as 2.5 percent of income — hence the tax.

But in a partial defeat for the administration, Roberts said the law cannot threaten to withhold Medicaid funds from states that do not participate in the ACA’s expansion of that program. That part of the ruling was joined by a plurality, not a majority of the justices.

“Nothing in our opinion precludes Congress from offering funds under the ACA to expand the availability of healthcare, and requiring that states accepting such funds comply with the conditions on their use,” Roberts wrote. “What Congress is not free to do is to penalize states that choose not to participate in that new program by taking away their existing Medicaid funding.”

The chief justice added, “Our permissive reading of these powers is explained in part by a general reticence to invalidate the acts of the nation’s elected leaders.”

But he also said the ruling does not imply approval: “The framers [of the Constitution] created a federal government of limited powers, and assigned to this court the duty of enforcing those limits. The court does so today. But the court does not express any opinion on the wisdom of the Affordable Care Act. Under the Constitution, that judgment is reserved to the people.”

The ruling means that more popular parts of the law — allowing parents to include children on their health insurance until age 26, removing the caps on healthcare expenditures and removing “the pre-existing” restrictions on health insurance, survive as well.

All four dissenting justices joined in a single opinion and issued separate opinions.

Reading the joint dissent by the four conservative justices, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the entire law should be struck down.

“Congress has set out to remedy the problem that the best healthcare is beyond the reach of many Americans who cannot afford it,” the conservatives said. “It can assuredly do that, by exercising the powers accorded to it under the Constitution. The question in this case, however, is whether the complex structures and provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act … go beyond those powers. We conclude that they do.”

Roberts opinion did not reach the question of whether the 1867 Anti-Injunction Act, which bars suits against the federal government over a “tax” until the tax actually goes into effect and someone actually is required to pay it, applies to the challenge by 26 states to the individual mandate since the mandate was upheld.

The mandate, the core provision of the law and one that gives health insurers the funds to comply with all of the act’s provisions, was challenged by a national business group as well as the 26 states.

The ruling upholds in part and reverses in part a ruling by a U.S. appeals court in California.

Russia Has Most Illegal Migrants In World

MOSCOW, (UPI) — A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Russia has the most illegal migrant workers in the world.

The OECD’s 2012 International Migration Outlook released Thursday showed almost 7 percent of Russia’s labor force is illegal migrant workers, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. About 3.5 percent of the United States’ labor force is made up of illegal migrant workers, OECD said.

The report showed Russia’s demand for migrant labor is expected to increase because the working-age population is projected to decrease by 7 million people by 2020.

In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed numerous ways to manage illegal migration, including harsher punishments for illegal workers, criminal charges for people who employ illegal migrants and exams in Russian language, history and law for migrants to help them adapt to Russian society more easily.

Supreme Court Overturns Stolen Valor Act

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3 Thursday, struck down a law that made it a crime to falsely claim to have won medals for military service.

“Lying was his habit,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion. “Xavier Alvarez … lied when he said that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico. But when he lied in announcing he held the Congressional Medal of Honor, [Alvarez] ventured onto new ground; for that lie violates a federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.”

However, Kennedy said: “Permitting the government to decree this speech to be a criminal offense would endorse government authority to compile a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle.”

Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, concluded that the act violated the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees.

In a concurring opinion to make up the majority, Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan concluded the act, as drafted, “works disproportionate constitutional harm.”

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, dissented.

In the California case, Alvarez won a seat on the Three Valley Water District Board of Directors in 2007. “I’m a retired Marine of 25 years,” Alvarez told a neighborhood district board meeting. “I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy. I’m still around.”

The only problem, an appeals court opinion said, was that “Alvarez has never been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, nor has he spent a single day as a Marine or in the service of any other branch of the U.S. armed forces. In short, with the exception of ‘I’m still around,’ his self-introduction was nothing but a series of bizarre lies.”

Alvarez pleaded guilty in Los Angeles — but reserved the right to challenge the constitutionality of the act on appeal. He was sentenced to one year on probation.

A federal appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the act was unconstitutional. The panel’s ruling was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alvarez’ lie was not unique. A July 2009 article in The Marine Corps Times found 40 doctored profiles in that year’s Marine Corps Association Directory — 16 made false claims for the Medal of Honor, 16 for the Navy Cross and eight for the Silver Star.

Urban Growth Eclipses Suburban Growth

WASHINGTON, (UPI) — More U.S. cities are growing faster than their suburbs, showing a mind change about city living and the effect of the housing bust, U.S. Census data indicate.

Census data released Thursday indicated that growth of city centers in 27 of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas outpaced their suburbs between July 2010 and July 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported. By comparison, only five metro areas grew faster than their suburbs from 2000 to 2010, data showed.

U.S. suburbs have grown faster than city centers every decade since the 1920s, when increased automobile ownership prompted city-dwellers to migrate to the suburbs, William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, told the Journal.

One reason for the shift could be improvement in quality-of-life issues that prompted residents head to the suburbs, the Journal said. Crime rates have fallen in some urban centers, environmental conditions have improved and once-stagnant downtowns have become more vibrant.

Data indicated Washington’s core was growing fast and is experiencing an apartment boom while suburban development fell below pre-recession levels, the Journal said. From July 2010 to July 2011 Washington’s urban population grew 2.4 percent; its suburbs 1.5 percent.

In the near term, however, living in the cities could stem from the recession and housing bust because city renters either were concerned about buying in the suburbs or couldn’t qualify for home loans, Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, told the Journal. As the economy and housing markets continue to settle, more city-dwellers may move to the ‘burbs, he said.

“I suspect the modest growth of the urban cores is a short-term phenomenon,” Johnson said.

Proclamation Copy Sells For Nearly $2.1M

NEW YORK, (UPI) — A copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War has sold for nearly $2.1 million at a New York City auction.

The document fetched $2.09 million, including a $235,000 commission, the second-highest amount ever paid for a copy of the proclamation signed by Lincoln, The New York Times reported.

A Lincoln-signed copy of the proclamation that had once been owned by Robert F. Kennedy sold for $3.8 million two years ago.

David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group investment firm, bought the copy that sold Tuesday at Robert Siegel Auction Galleries. The Times said the U.S. seller remained anonymous.

The proclamation, issued Jan. 1, 1863, freed all slaves in states in rebellion at the time and provided a legal route to the emancipation of millions of other slaves. Forty-eight copies were printed after Lincoln issued the proclamation, and he signed all of them in 1864, with copies sold throughout the United States to support Union troops.

“They have appreciated in value because it’s so powerful as a document,” said Seth Kaller, an expert in U.S. historic documents who worked with the seller in Tuesday’s auction. “If you have an original document like this on exhibit, people get a sense of the excitement. This document changed the course of history.”

Kaller’s Web site, www.SethKaller.com, lists the location of 26 copies of the proclamation, 18 of them in museums and libraries.

'Stand-Your-Ground' Killer Gets 40 Years

HOUSTON, (UPI) — A Houston jury Wednesday sentenced Raul Rodriguez to 40 years in prison for murdering a neighbor in a so-called stand-your-ground shooting in 2010.

Rodriguez, 47, was spared a possible life sentence, the Los Angeles Times reported. Defense lawyers had asked for a five-year term, saying Rodriguez — who was convicted this month — thought he was legally entitled under Texas law to shoot Kelly Danaher, a 36-year-old elementary school teacher, in Huffman.

Rodriguez killed Danaher after having complained about the noise at a party at Danaher’s house May 2, 2010.

During the trial, jurors watched a 22-minute video Rodriguez shot of himself going from his house to Danaher’s, and demanding those at the party quiet down. In the last 7 minutes of the video, Rodriguez is heard telling the guests at Danaher’s house he is afraid they will hurt him, the Houston Chronicle reported.

At one point, as several men from the party, including Danaher, are seen charging at Rodriguez, the shot goes to black and the audio portion contains a laugh and a gunshot before the camera seems to fall to the ground.

The defense argued Rodriguez shot Danaher in self-defense and had a split-second to decide whether to shoot.

Prosecutor Donna Logan said during the trial “self-defense was never meant to protect the one who started the fight” and Rodriguez was employing language he’d learned in a concealed handgun licensing class.

After the sentencing Thursday, Rodriguez’s attorney, Neal Davis, told the Times the case is “only the beginning of the cases we’re going to see” involving stand-your-ground laws.

Man Saves Baby On NYC Subway Tracks

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y., (UPI) — A New York man rescued a baby whose stroller had fallen from a subway platform to the tracks below just as a train pulled into the station, witnesses said.

The stroller, carrying 9-month-old Daniel Zamara, was set into motion by a sudden gust of wind Tuesday as the boy’s mother tended to his three siblings at the Brooklyn station, the New York Post reported Wednesday.

When 30-year-old Delroy Simmonds saw the stroller and baby hit the tracks, he jumped down after the boy and lifted them both back up to the platform as an incoming train halted just short of where the incident occurred.

“The train was seconds away. The driver was honking the horn and then stopped seconds before it got to them,” said witness Khalima Ansari.

“He’s a hero, no doubt about it,” she said. “Anybody could have thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to lose my life,’ but he didn’t care. He just jumped down and he got the baby just in time.”

Simmonds, who was on his way to a job interview, said his involvement was “just a reaction to seeing the stroller on the tracks.”

Daniel’s father, whose name was not reported, told the Post the boy was treated at Brookdale Hospital for a head wound.

Colorado Springs Wildfire Doubles In Size

COLORADO SPRINGS, (UPI) — Mandatory evacuations for Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire were expanded Wednesday as the inferno double in size to more than 15,000 acres.

The evacuations were expanded to El Paso and Teller counties and the south and east sides of Woodland Park as the fire increasingly threatened populated areas of Colorado Springs, The Denver Post reported.

The fire was encroaching upon the U.S. Air Force Academy Wednesday afternoon, and the National Guard has been called in to help battle the blaze, KKTV, Colorado Springs, reported.

“The fire right now, like yesterday, did not push toward us but it’s creeping,” the Post quoted Woodland Park Mayor David Turley as saying.

“We thought it was prudent to do a mandatory evacuation in case the winds did blow our way, especially after seeing what happened in Colorado Springs yesterday.”

The wildfire is only 5 percent contained, officials said.

President Barack Obama called Gov. John Hickenlooper and Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach to get an update on the situation and announce he would travel to Colorado Friday to observe the damage and thank responders, the White House said in a statement.

Officials said the blaze exhibited “extreme fire behavior with extreme rates of spread” and an increase in the fire perimeter along the north and east sides, InciWeb reported.

“This event that is ongoing is certainly unprecedented in the city,” the Post quoted Lt. Jeff Kramer, an El Paso County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, as saying.

Hickenlooper Tuesday called the fire “surreal” after he returned from surveying the area, CNN reported.

“There were people’s homes burned to the ground,” he said. “There’s no question, it’s serious. It’s as serious as it gets.”

Officials said the fire has been exhibiting “extreme fire behavior.”

“This is a firestorm of epic proportions,” said Fire Chief Richard Brown of Colorado Springs.

A spokeswoman for the multiagency response team said conditions could not be worse.

“It is like a convection oven out there,” said Anne Rys-Sikora.

The Post said about 32,000 people had fled the area.

“People are freaking out,” said Kathleen Tillman, who drove from Pueblo to northern Colorado Springs. “You are driving through smoke. It is completely pitch black, and there is tons of ash dropping on the road.”

On Tuesday, wind gusts of up to 65 mph through mountain canyons blew the wildfire through containment lines into northwest Colorado Springs.

Jan Van Winkle, the Air Force Academy’s public affairs officer, said an evacuation order was issued for about 700 residents of the academy’s Pine Valley and Douglass Valley housing.

Flight, glider and parachute operations were called off so the U.S. Forest Service could use their runways.

Cadets for the academy’s 2016 class were set to arrive Thursday.

Elsewhere, lightning sparked a forest fire in Boulder, consuming 228 acres in just minutes. Authorities ordered the evacuation of 26 homes and told residents of 2,000 more to prepare to flee, the Post said.

The High Park fire west of Fort Collins, which consumed about 87,250 acres and at least 257 homes, making it the most destructive in state history, was reported 55 percent contained.

In the Eastern Plains, the blaze near Last Chance charred 45,000 acres in just 8 hours.

Seventeen air tankers had cycled in and out of firefighting action over the last 48 hours across the Western United States, and more than 8,400 personnel were deployed against wildfires across the country, the White House said.

Obama’s Healthcare Bill Survives Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued a ruling on President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act upholding many of the laws central provisions Thursday morning.

One of the most important rulings by the Court regarding the Constitutionality of the healthcare overhaul was describing the individual insurance requirement as a tax, rather than a forced purchase.

In the Court’s opinion, the decision is explained as follows:

Under the mandate, if an individual does not maintain health insurance, the only consequence is that he must make an additional payment to the IRS when he pays his taxes. See §5000A(b). That, according to the Government, means the mandate can be regarded as establishing a condition—not owning health insurance—that triggers a tax—the required payment to the IRS. Under that theory, the mandate is not a legal command to buy insurance. Rather, it makes going without insurance just another thing the Government taxes, like buying gasoline or earning income.

Because the mandate was found to be Constitutional, the Court did not decide what other parts of the statute were Constitutional, except for a provision that required States to comply with new eligibility requirements for Medicaid or risk losing their funding. The Court found that the Medicaid provision is Constitutional as long as States would lose only new funds for failure to comply with the new requirements.

The Affordable Care Act was declared Constitutional in a 5-4 decision. Liberal-leaning Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor were joined by Chief Justice John Roberts in support of the law. Justices Samuel Alito, Anthony Kennedy, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

A President Or A King?

During the Constitutional Convention, there was much discussion about the chief executive, how much power he should have, how long his term should be and whether there should be more than one. In fact, the lack of a chief executive was considered one of the glaring weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation.

Save Alexander Hamilton and James Wilson — who advocated for a strong chief executive similar to a monarch — delegates were most concerned that the executive would turn into a virtual king. During the Philadelphia Convention, Charles Pinckney said he was “for a vigorous executive, but was afraid the executive powers of the existing Congress might extend to peace and war, &c.; which would render the executive a monarchy of the worst kind, to wit, an elective one.”

When Wilson moved that the executive should “consist of a single person,” the Convention was silent. After Benjamin Franklin asked for opinions, John Rutledge said, he was “for vesting the executive power in a single person,” though not for “giving him the power of war and peace.”

George Mason said, “If strong and extensive Powers are vested in the Executive, and that Executive consists of only one Person; the Government will of course degenerate (for I will call it degeneracy) into a Monarchy–a Government so contrary to the Genius of the people that they will reject even the appearance of it…”

What would Mason, Franklin, Rutledge and Pinckney think of the Presidency now? Over the years, the President has usurped more and more authority from Congress, and Congress has ceded its authority willingly. Now the President and the man on the top of the Republican ticket who seeks to replace him both believe the President has the authority to make war without Congressional approval, kill U.S. citizens at his discretion and imprison Americans without charges and hold them indefinitely without trial.

It’s safe to say even Hamilton and Wilson would be mortified by those prospects.

Source: The Founding Father’s Guide To The Constitution, by Brion McClanahan.