Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date





In "Bad News for Mail Robbers: The Obvious Constitutionality of Health Care Reform," Professor Andrew Koppelman concludes that the individual mandate in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) is constitutionally authorized as a law "necessary and proper for carrying into Execution" other aspects of the PPACA. However, the Necessary and Proper Clause rather plainly does not authorize the individual mandate.

The Necessary and Proper Clause incorporates basic norms drawn from eighteenth-century agency law, administrative law, and corporate law. From agency law, the clause embodies the venerable doctrine of principals and incidents: a law enacted under the clause must exercise a subsidiary rather than an independent power, must be important or customary to achievement of a principal end, and must conform to standard fiduciary obligations.

From administrative law, the Necessary and Proper Clause embodies the closely-related principle of reasonableness in the exercise of delegated power, which independently requires conformance with a similar set of fiduciary norms, including the norms of acting only within delegated jurisdiction and of treating all persons subject to a public agent‘s power impartially.

Evidence from eighteenth-century corporate law – and the Constitution was widely recognized in the founding era as a type of corporate charter – confirms these conclusions about the meaning of the phrase "necessary and proper for carrying into Execution . . . ."

The power to order someone to purchase a product is not a power subordinate or inferior to other powers, such as the power to regulate voluntary commerce. The power to compel commerce is at least as significant – or, in eighteenth-century language, as "worthy" or of the same "dignity" – as the power to regulate insurance pricing and rating practices. It is therefore not incidental to other powers exercised by Congress in the PPACA and must be separately enumerated if it is to exist.

Second, the doctrine of principals and incidents and the principle of reasonableness both embody the fiduciary norm that agents exercising delegated power must treat multiple principals subject to those agents' power impartially. Interpreting the Necessary and Proper Clause to allow Congress to force private dealings with preferred sellers of products fails that basic fiduciary norm, as illustrated by founding-era concerns about Congress invalidly using the Necessary and Proper Clause power to create monopolies.


Published as: "Bad News for Professor Koppelman: The Incidental Unconstitutionality of the Individual Mandate," 121 Yale Law Journal Online 267 (2011).

Find on SSRN



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.