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If the government imposes a legal duty on you, but provides no sanctions for non-compliance (and there are no collateral legal consequences of any sort for non-compliance), do you have standing to challenge the imposition of the duty? That is one question posed by Section 5000A of the tax code, the provision in the Affordable Care Act more popularly known as the individual mandate.

Section 5000A requires “applicable individuals” to have “minimum essential coverage,” and it imposes a penalty on some “applicable individuals” who do not have “minimum essential coverage.” That is, there are some people who are required to have insurance but who are exempt from the penalty for not having it Members of Indian tribes, among others, are beneficiaries of this exemption.

Suppose a member of an Indian tribe wanted to sue the federal government to have the insurance requirement declared unconstitutional. Would he have standing to do so? I have trouble seeing how he would. It is not enough to be subject to allegedly illegal conduct. That conduct must cause injury. If non-compliance with the insurance requirement has no consequences for a member of an Indian tribe, then it does not cause any injury. Perhaps the would-be plaintiff can argue that he will buy insurance to comply with the requirement if it is constitutional because he wants to be in compliance with the law, but he will not buy the insurance if the requirement is unconstitutional. But that cannot be enough, because the “injury” of being forced to buy insurance is entirely self-inflicted; nobody is forcing the would-be plaintiff to do anything.

A better way of thinking about the “case” or “controversy” problem with a challenge by a member of an Indian tribe to the minimum essential coverage provision is in advisory opinion terms. The request for a constitutional ruling is purely advisory because there is no proper defendant who can be brought before the court and bound by a judgment. Nobody has anything to enforce against the would-be plaintiff, who simply seeks advice about whether the insurance requirement is constitutional.

This analysis would require alteration if there were some collateral legal consequences for non-compliance with the insurance requirement. But if the penalty in § 5000A is the only means by which the insurance requirement has any legal bite, there appears to be no Article III “case” that a member of an Indian tribe can bring offensively to challenge the insurance requirement.

I cannot think of the closest analogue to this situation, and cheerfully invite suggestions, corrections, contrary arguments, and so on.

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