APU Hosts High-Profile Healthcare Debate
By Dan Diner '14, A&L Section Editor
On Tuesday, the Amherst Political Union (APU) hosted a three-part event on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), President Obama’s federal statute concerning nationwide healthcare reform. The act focuses on reforming the private insurance market, banning the practice of excluding coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions, increasing prescription drug coverage in Medicare and extending the Medicare Trust Fund by another 12 years.

The first event, “A Conversation with Akhil Reed Amar,” was an informal discussion session held at Porter Lounge with Akhil Reed Amar, a well-known constitutional scholar and professor at Yale College and Yale Law School. Although students had the option of discussing a number of constitutionally-related topics with Amar, including their thesis projects, the focus of conversation at the event was healthcare reform.

Later Amar participated in another event where he presented his upcoming book, America’s Unwritten Constitution.

Introduced by Hadley Arkes, the Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions, Amar presented a synopsis of his book. In the book Amar discusses how many important features of our Constitution are implied and not written down in the actual document. Such features include equal voting power for all citizenry and a protection from racial discrimination. Amar emphasized that the written Constitution is very much incomplete without its unwritten counterpart.

Lastly was the debate on the resolution: “This house believes the Individual Mandate is unconstitutional.” The Individual Mandate is a central provision in the PPACA that requires every U.S. citizen to purchase health insurance, or else face a steep tax penalty of $2,085 per year of non-coverage.

According to Khan Shoieb ’13, the debate organizer, the goal of this event was to “give speakers more freedom to have less structured conversation for 40 minutes.”

Arguing the affirmative were Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute and Editor-in-Chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review, and Ilya Somin, an Associate Professor at the George Mason University School of Law who has written in two of the Washington Legal Foundation’s amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court. Opposing the resolution were Roderick Hills, the William R. Comfort III Professor of Law at New York University School of Law and Amar, whose legal analyses have been cited in over 20 Supreme Court decisions.

Arguments in favor of the act’s constitutionality stemmed largely from the Commerce Clause of Article I of the Constitution, which gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce. The negative refuted that this case doesn’t fit within the Commerce Clause’s parameters, and that the federal government is overstepping its bounds by intervening so much in the lives of the citizenry.

The event received positive reactions from the audience, who was very engaged throughout the debate.

“I am very pleased with the debate itself, but I don’t think the Commerce Clause is the argument to make [for the affirmative],” Professor Arkes said.

The debate ended with a general Q&A session between the members of the debate and the audience, along with an agent sitting next to the crowd selling copies of one of Amar’s books, which were autographed by him if the buyer requested it.

Issue 22, Submitted 2011-04-13 04:20:09