The Supreme Court has had a hard time improving on Chief Justice Marshall’s McCulloch v. Maryland formulation of the doctrinal test for Congress’s power under the Necessary and Proper Clause. At one point in time, the Court even adopted that formulation as its test for the reach of Congress’s power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. In City of Boerne v. Flores, however, the Court tried to do better in its Section 5 jurisprudence. That was a mistake. Boerne‘s congruence and proportionality test is a “flabby test” that is “a standing invitation to judicial arbitrariness and policy-driven decisionmaking,” as Justice Scalia reiterated in a solo concurrence just last week.
Based on this week’s oral arguments on the constitutionality of the “individual mandate,” at least some of the Justices appear willing to formulate a new doctrinal test for what counts as a “Proper” law under the Necessary and Proper Clause. As they were in Boerne, the Justices are on a search for a limiting principle on Congress’s power. In their attempt to not Garcia–ize the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause, let us hope that they do not Boerne-ize those powers instead.