Libertarian legal scholar Randy Barnett, a former Boston University professor who now teaches at Georgetown, fulfilled a lifelong wish three years ago when he appeared in a low-budget sci-fi movie — a genre-blending legal drama about an adolescent parasite from outer space. Most critics ignored it.
Some of Barnett’s interpretations of the US Constitution have been similarly snubbed by his colleagues in the academic mainstream, dismissed as fantasy from the fringe.
But now, Barnett has vaulted into the vanguard of the conservative movement and earned national recognition for developing the basis of successful legal challenges of President Obama’s health care law. His theory on the limits of federal authority appears destined to be examined by the Supreme Court and may end up redefining congressional power.
“Randy has advanced his theories from something widely dismissed to something that must be taken very seriously,’’ said Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA School of Law who once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Two federal judges have ruled all or part of the health care law unconstitutional, based largely on broad arguments credited to Barnett.
That has made Barnett a media star of small-government conservatives. He has argued against the law on talk radio and Glenn Beck’s television program; in guest columns for Politico, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal; and in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Barnett, 59, argues that the law’s requirement that almost all Americans obtain health insurance by 2014 is a government intrusion.
Such a mandate is unconstitutional, Barnett says, because the Constitution’s Commerce Clause — the underpinning of much federal regulation — does not give Congress the power to compel Americans to buy a product. In this case, the product is health insurance.
To put his view another way, Congress cannot regulate inactivity as commerce.
“Giving the Congress the power to do these mandates is essentially giving the Congress the power to take over your life,’’ he declared in an interview.