Justice Roberts: Can the Government Require you to Buy a Cell Phone?

This is from a transcript of today’s Supreme Court arguments:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, the same, it seems to me, would be true say for the market in emergency services: police, fire, ambulance, roadside assistance, whatever. You don’t know when you’re going to need it; you’re not sure that you will. But the same is true for health care. You don’t know if you’re going to need a heart transplant or if you ever will. So there is a market there. To — in some extent, we all participate in it. So can the government require you to buy a cell phone because that would facilitate responding when you need emergency services? You can just dial 911 no matter where you are?

GENERAL VERRILLI: No, Mr. Chief Justice. think that’s different. It’s — We — I don’t think we think of that as a market. This is a market. This is market regulation. And in addition, you have a situation in this market not only where people enter involuntarily as to when they enter and won’t be able to control what they need when they enter but when they —

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It seems to me that’s the same as in my hypothetical. You don’t know when you’re going to need police assistance. You can’t predict the extent to emergency response that you’ll need. But when you do, and the government provides it.

From Politico 44. More discussion here.

Comments (7)

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  1. Brian Williams. says:

    Verrilli choked today. Starting on page 14, the justices had to start making his argument for him.

    They say you can’t win a Supreme Court case on oral arguments alone. But you can certainly lose one.

  2. Brian Williams. says:

    Page 21. Sotomayor asks Verrilli, “Here are your three possible arguments. I’m not sure which ones you are making here. Help?”


  3. Joe Barnett says:

    Kagan is there, can’t she help them out?

  4. Davie says:

    Alito used a fitting analogy about burial services. General Verrilli may want to pay attention: he dug his own grave today.

    JUSTICE ALITO: Do you think there is a, a market for burial services?

    GENERAL VERRILLI: For burial services?


    GENERAL VERRILLI: Yes, Justice Alito, I think there is.

  5. Brian says:

    We’ll see.

  6. Devon Herrick says:

    It would all be very amusing if it weren’t so serious an issue. What worries me even more, if the individual mandate is judged to be unconstitutional (which I believe it is), there is nothing to prevent a future (liberal) Congress from imposing a single-payer, Medicaid for All plan paid for by tax dollars in place of the individual mandate.

    Under the former, people are being forced to buy a commercial product and pay for it with personal income and subsidies paid for with tax dollars. Under the latter, people would be provided medical services paid for with tax dollars.

  7. Aurelius says:

    On the left, they say that overturning Obamacare would jeopardize all sorts of other legislation, such as environmental laws and education laws, since a decision on certain grounds would set a certain kind of precedent (I think it was a Huffington Post article).

    But even if that were true, wouldn’t the opposite outcome in the court cause a different kind of effect? Would the court’s upholding of the constitutionality of Obamacare set a precedent for the legality of allowing future legislation to compel people to buy other things?

    What else might people be compelled to buy in the future?