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Direct and Indirect Taxes

Over at the Originalism Blog, Mike Ramsey discusses whether the Obamacare tax is a direct tax and therefore unconstitutional because it must be apportioned.  Mike links to some work by Jose Alicea.   Another discussion of whether the tax on not having health insurance is a direct tax is this one by Rob Natelson.  Here is an excerpt:

My book, The Original Constitution: What It Actually Said and Meant (2d ed., 2011), pp. 159-61, contains what may be the most complete compendium of Founding-Era sources on the distinction between direct and indirect taxes. While there were some exceptions (for example, although taxes on ownership of capital and household goods were direct, excises on ownership of luxury goods were indirect) the usual line of distinction was that direct taxes were imposed on status, while indirect taxes were imposed on transactions. A tax that one must pay despite doing nothing is the quintessential direct tax.

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Obamacaid Revisited

In the pending Obamacare litigation, the plaintiff-states argue that Title II of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacaid”) unconstitutionally “coerces” them to participate in a grand expansion of Medicaid. I’ve argued here and there that the plaintiffs will and should lose that argument. A terrific amicus brief by Vanderbilt Law School professor James Blumstein makes a powerful case on the other side. Ultimately, Jim’s brief doesn’t fully persuade me. But it comes very, very close on account of its recognition that Obamacaid’s crucial problem has to do with the bilateral risk of opportunistic defection from a pre-existing, quasi-contractual relation (Medicaid), not with some “economic coercion” story about federalism’s “balance” and the poor, pitiful states and their faithful public servants. (For ConLaw dorks: the key cases are Pennhurst and Printz, not South Dakota v. Dole or Steward Machine.) I hope to explain sometime next week; today, a few additional remarks on economic coercion. Read more