If Massachusetts can force its citizens to
buy health insurance or if other states can force their citizens to buy car insurance,
why can’t the federal government force us all to buy health insurance? Well the answer,
from a constitutional perspective, is relatively straightforward. It’s because the federal
government is a government of limited and enumerated powers only. So every time Congress
passes a law, it must prove that that law is based in one of the powers specified in
Article 1, Section 8. So with the individual mandate, for example, that power source is
the power to regulate commerce. But when state legislatures act they’re not limited that
way. State legislatures are not governments or
legislatures of limited and enumerated powers. Instead, state legislatures have residual
power, or police power is what it’s commonly referred to. And the police power is what
it sounds like: it’s the power of police. It allows the state to pass any kind of law
it wants in the name of enhancing or protecting our life, our liberty, our property, perhaps
even morality. And it doesn’t have to ground its state laws in any particular enumerated
power source. So state legislatures really have a lot more
power than the federal government does. It was supposed to be that way. That’s the
message of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which says any power that’s not given to
the federal government by this Constitution is reserved to the states respectively or
to the people.