As a legal argument against an act of Congress, “it’s unprecedented” does not carry all that much weight. After all, every first use of a legitimate congressional power was obviously without precedent. And there is, in the nature of things, no reason that such a first instance could not occur many years after the power itself was called into being by the Constitution.
So when the individual mandate to purchase health insurance, now at issue in the Obamacare case before the Supreme Court, is denounced as unprecedented, that’s hardly a slam-dunk argument. It’s just the beginning of one. What one must show is that the unprecedented mandate is also improper — an illegitimate claim of authority under the Constitution. “It’s unprecedented” can add some rhetorical oomph to the more important claim of illegitimacy, since a plausible reason why no earlier Congress attempted such a mandate is that it would have been understood to reach too far.
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