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US Supreme Court

Raging Legal issues in the United States

WASHINGTON DC — Americans too have been focused on at least two court proceedings. The first is a challenge to President Barack Obama’s flagship initiative on heath care reforms, which 26 states argue is unconstitutional.  The second is the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in a gated community in Florida.

The first is a challenge to President Obama’s primary election promise: To reform the US health care system. This initiative could perhaps be compared to President Noynoy Aquino’s Truth Commission – Pnoy’s flagship promise while he was campaigning for the presidency.

The urgency of health care reforms is well known to almost all Americans. Because health care here is privatized and is run as a private business, the cost of medical care has now proven to be beyond the reach of ordinary people. We’re dealing with two symbiotic industries which are now on the verge of collapse: Health providers that have raked in profits from a profession that was not intended to be run as a business and a medical insurance industry that has thrived as a guarantee against a contingency that otherwise would be beyond the reach of normal people.  The result is the current state of health care in the US: technologically sound but in a state of financial collapse.

The dilemma now is this: With health care so expensive, what happens to those who do not have the insurance coverage required to pay for these sky-high costs?

Obama’s proposal is simple. Because those who do not have medical insurance have opted to pay the cost of their health care themselves or to pass them on to be paid by hospitals, other patients, or the government; they are actually engaged in an economic activity which Congress can legislate on. This is the so-called inter-commerce clause of the US Constitution.  Opponents of the initiative, mostly conservative Republics, argue that those who do not have insurance do not participate in any economic activity and hence, should not be the subject of legislation. They argue that Congress cannot compel individuals to buy coverage so that they can participate in an economic activity that Congress can regulate.

Under Obama’s proposal, all Americans must procure medical insurance by 2014. Otherwise, they are liable to pay a penalty in their 2015 income tax return.

The US Supreme Court has scheduled this issue for a two-hour argument today. It is expected that the US Solicitor-General will argue that the initiative is a legitimate exercise of police power to uphold the public good. With health care expenditure amounting to 18 percent of the entire American economy, the Obama administration argued in its pleading that “as a class, the uninsured shift tens of billions of dollars of costs for the uncompensated care they receive to other market participants annually x x x That cost shifting drives up insurance premiums, which, in turn, makes insurance unaffordable to even more people.”


The case of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has also caught the attention of the American public. Trayvon was allegedly killed by a white community volunteer, George Zimmerman. Trayvon’s family claimed he was killed simply because he happened to be black. Zimmerman, though, claims that it was an act of self-defense after Trayvon punched and slammed him into the sidewalk.

A month after Trayvon’s killing, Zimmerman has not been apprehended nor charged for the killing. This has led to widespread protest in the US. The debate has culminated recently with no less than President Barrack Obama declaring: “My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son he’d look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Conservatives have of course pounced on the opportunity to hit at Obama with former US Speaker Newt Gingrich declaring that the President’s remark was “disgraceful.” He added: “Is the president suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot, that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?”

These two cases highlight what we do not have in common with the US despite having the same constitutional tradition. One, there is the trust here that the Supreme Court, despite the fact that majority of its members were appointed by Republic presidents, will resolve constitutional issues according to the letter and intent of the fundamental law of the land.

Furthermore, the outrage stirred by Trayvon’s killing, one which we no longer find in the Philippines with more than a thousand Trayvons in our midst, show a belief, now lacking in the Philippines, that a society under a rule of law should not countenance these killings.