NFIB Sebelius Roberts


not just to raise more money, but to encourage people to
quit smoking. And we have upheld such obviously regula-
tory measures as taxes on selling marijuana and sawed-off
shotguns. See United States v. Sanchez, 340 U. S. 42, 44–
45 (1950); Sonzinsky v. United States, 300 U. S. 506, 513
(1937). Indeed, ““[e]very tax is in some measure regula-
tory.  To some extent it interposes an economic impediment
to the activity taxed as compared with others not taxed.””
Sonzinsky, supra, at 513.  That §5000A seeks to shape
decisions about whether to buy health insurance does not
mean that it cannot be a valid exercise of the taxing

 In distinguishing penalties from taxes, this Court has
explained that “”if the concept of penalty means anything,
it means punishment for an unlawful act or omission.””
United States v. Reorganized CF&I Fabricators of Utah,
Inc., 518 U. S. 213, 224 (1996); see also United States v. La  
Franca, 282 U. S. 568, 572 (1931) (“”[A] penalty, as the
word is here used, is an exaction imposed by statute as
punishment for an unlawful act””). While the individual
mandate clearly aims to induce the purchase of health
insurance, it need not be read to declare that failing to do
so is unlawful. Neither the Act nor any other law attaches
negative legal consequences to not buying health insur-
ance, beyond requiring a payment to the IRS. The Gov-
ernment agrees with that reading, confirming that if
someone chooses to pay rather than obtain health insur-
ance, they have fully complied with the law.  Brief for
United States 60–61; Tr. of Oral Arg. 49–50 (Mar. 26,

 Indeed, it is estimated that four million people each year
will choose to pay the IRS rather than buy insurance.  See
Congressional Budget Office, supra, at 71. We would
expect Congress to be troubled by that prospect if such
conduct were unlawful.  That Congress apparently regards
such extensive failure to comply with the mandate as 


tolerable suggests that Congress did not think it was
creating four million outlaws.  It suggests instead that the
shared responsibility payment merely imposes a tax citi-
zens may lawfully choose to pay in lieu of buying health

 The plaintiffs contend that Congress’’s choice of lan-
guage-—stating that individuals “”shall”” obtain insurance
or pay a “”penalty”-”—requires reading §5000A as punishing
unlawful conduct, even if that interpretation would ren-
der the law unconstitutional. We have rejected a similar
argument before.  In New York v. United States we exam-
ined a statute providing that “ ‘”[e]ach State shall be re –
sponsible for providing . . . for the disposal of . . . low-level
radioactive waste.”’ ”  505 U. S., at 169 (quoting 42 U. S. C.
§2021c(a)(1)(A)). A State that shipped its waste to another
State was exposed to surcharges by the receiving State,
a portion of which would be paid over to the Federal
Government. And a State that did not adhere to the
statutory scheme faced “”[p]enalties for failure to comply,””
including increases in the surcharge.  §2021e(e)(2); New
York, 505 U. S., at 152-–153.  New York urged us to read
the statute as a federal command that the state legisla-
ture enact legislation to dispose of its waste, which would
have violated the Constitution. To avoid that outcome, we
interpreted the statute to impose only “”a series of incen-
tives”” for the State to take responsibility for its waste.  We
then sustained the charge paid to the Federal Government
as an exercise of the taxing power.  Id.,   at 169-–174.  We
see no insurmountable obstacle to a similar approach
—————— 10 The joint dissent attempts to distinguish New York v. United States
on the ground that the seemingly imperative language in that case was
in an “introductory provision” that had “no legal consequences.”  Post,
at 19. We did not rely on that reasoning in   New York. See 505 U. S., at
169-–170.  Nor could we have.  While the Court quoted only the broad
statement that “”[e]ach State shall be responsible”” for its waste, that

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