Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

The Constitution This Week: Health care reform, cigarette packaging, and Syria

March 2, 2012 by Holly Munson


News headlines, politicians, and hot-button issues come and go, but one 225-year-old document continues to emerge in our conversations about our nation’s most important questions and challenges: the Constitution. The Constitution is a big buzzword for Election 2012, and more than ever, citizens, pundits, and politicians are turning to the Constitution for answers–and sometimes ammunition, as they try to prove the Constitution is on their side.

Here’s a brief look at the top constitutional news stories and commentaries from this week.

1. The Constitution and ...Health care reform

A USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday revealed that Americans are evenly divided on whether they would favor a repeal of the 2010 health care reform law. In addition, an overwhelming 72 percent of Americans believe the law's "individual mandate," which will require all Americans to have health insurance, is unconstitutional. Even the 54 percent of respondents who said they support the law said they believed the individual mandate is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case challenging the law, Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, on Mar. 28.

2. The Constitution and ... Cigarette packaging

On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that the Food and Drug Administration's plans to require that graphic warning labels be included on cigarette packs is unconstitutional. The FDA's proposed labels depicted grisly images, such as disease-infected lungs, rotting teeth, a man with a hole in his throat, and a yellowing corpse with a stapled chest.

Image via FDA.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon stated: "The government has failed to carry both its burden of demonstrating a compelling interest and its burden of demonstrating that the rule is narrowly tailored to achieve a constitutionally permissible form of compelled commercial speech."

In addition, the judge pointed out the federal government had other means to discourage tobacco use in ways that would not violate the free speech of tobacco companies, such as anti-smoking advertisements.

3. The Constitution and ... Syria

On Monday the Syrian government announced that 89.4 percent of voters had approved a draft for a new constitution. Unfortunately, the situation isn't at all as laudable as the convention of 1787: President Bashar al-Assad's regime promoted the referendum as a step toward reform, but Western leaders and Syrian opposition leaders have decried it as little more than a sham, particularly as assaults from the Syrian military continue to be reported in the city of Homs and elsewhere.

Protests against al-Assad's government began in March 2011 and have been followed by continued assaults by the Syrian army against thousands of citizens. For a helpful overview of the background and recent developments for the situation in Syria, see this excellent explanation from Mother Jones.

4. The Constitution and ... Women's health

On Thursday the Senate narrowly rejected a measure that would have reversed the Obama administration's requirement that employers, including church-affiliated organizations, cover contraceptives in health care plans for employees. Despite the previous "jobs, jobs, jobs" narrative of the presidential campaign, the requirement has dredged up a contentious debate about balancing the demands for religious freedom and women's health.

Holly Munson is the Programs Coordinator at the National Constitution Center.

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