LETTER: A tax by any other nameTo the Telegram: Chief Justice John Roberts was wise not to quibble over whether fines paid by Americans who disobey the individual mandate and refuse to buy insurance, constitute a tax or a penalty.
To the Telegram:
Chief Justice John Roberts was wise not to quibble over whether fines paid by Americans who disobey the individual mandate and refuse to buy insurance, constitute a tax or a penalty.
To him, the fact is the penalty/tax will be collected by the IRS is good enough. However, despite all of the political flack aimed at the president for seeming to flip-flop over whether, for legal purposes, which of the “penalty” or “tax” definitions apply more accurately, the right decision presented a genuine quandary.
Webster’s Dictionary defines a “tax,” as a charge, usually of money, imposed by authorities on a person or property for public purposes.” Since the penalty/tax for not obeying the individual mandate indeed is indeed imposed by authorities, the term “tax” would definitely apply. But now consider the dictionary’s definitions for the word “penalty;” — described as a “punishment for a crime or offense” or as “something forfeited when a person fails to do something agreed to.” In my mind, this indicates that the word “penalty” fits the definition for disobeying the mandate perfectly, and makes it the obvious choice. So, while both a penalty and a tax, involve payments made by an individual — unless deceitfully withheld or concealed from the IRS, a tax is not really considered a crime, but rather, a lien applied on money or wealth earned by an individual — more contractual than felonious — it fulfills an agreed upon social contract.
Given the importance placed on the health care reforms by Democrats, it is totally understandable the Obama Administration would prepare to make arguments based on either of these two somewhat vague and interchangeable words, to successfully persuade the court. Happily, Justice Roberts held his ground, and affirmed that the SCOTUS’S role is not to pass judgment on the wisdom or virtues of laws — only whether or not they are constitutional.
Although I think the bill is an excellent beginning toward health care for all. I wish the justices would have mentioned some clear virtues in the law.
Robert’s observation that as an issue handled by the IRS, violating the mandate involves paying a tax and that, Congress reserves the power to “lay and collect taxes” will do perfectly for now.
If Justice Roberts had not had the courage to deviate from the Court’s conservative dominance, he very likely would have damaged its reputation severely. Politics would have become even more polarized and dangerously divided. Instead, by adhering to the courts intended purpose, Roberts delivered a tall glass of ethically pure and cold water to a public thirsty for fairness and tough decision-making. If he had not done so, many more of us would have no doubt the opinions of the Supreme Court are little more than meaningless and corrupt.
Even Republicans do not understand how close Roberts came to crippling their political freedoms — especially if he had not been his own man, by obeying his own nonpartisan, moral compass.
Peter W. Johnson,