The Individual Mandate, Taxation, and the Constitution


This article examines the Supreme Court's 2012 decision in National Federation of Business v. Sibelius (NFIB). That case held that the individual mandate penalty in the Obamacare legislation will be a tax and not a penalty, and that the penalty will therefore be constitutional under the Taxing Clause of the Constitution, even though a majority of the Court held that the mandate itself-the requirement to acquire insurance or pay the tax/penalty-was not a valid exercise of the commerce power. The result in the case was not necessarily a surprise, but the reliance on the taxing power was. This article discusses the understanding of the taxing power reflected in NFIB; describes what Chief Justice Roberts did not say about the scope of that power; and considers what the decision means for future exercises of congressional power; concluding that NFIB is unlikely to cause Congress to abuse the taxing power.


Taxation, National Federation of Business v. Sibelius

Publication Date


Document Type


Place of Original Publication

Journal of Taxation of Investments

Publication Information

30 (1) Journal of Taxation of Investments 31 (2012)

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COinS Erik M. Jensen Faculty Bio