Any remaining doubt about rejecting this facial challenge is alleviated by the most enduring lesson of McCulloch, which remains an historical, not a doctrinal, one. No debate in the forty years after the country’s birth stirred the people more than the conflict between the federalists and anti-federalists over the role of the National Government in relation to the States. And no issue was more bound up in that debate than the wisdom of creating a national bank. In upholding the constitutionality of a second national bank, not a foregone conclusion, the Supreme Court erred on the side of allowing the political branches to resolve the conflict. Right or wrong, that decision presented the challengers with a short-term loss (by upholding the bank) and set the platform for a potential long-term victory (by allowing them to argue that Congress should not make the same mistake again). There was no third national bank. But see Federal Reserve Act, ch. 6, 38 Stat. 251 (1913).
Today’s debate about the individual mandate is just as stirring, no less essential to the appropriate role of the National Government and no less capable of political resolution. Time assuredly will bring to light the policy strengths and weaknesses of using the individual mandate as part of this national legislation, allowing the peoples’ political representatives, rather than their judges, to have the primary say over its utility.