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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The highest court handed down a 6-3 ruling upholding one of the crucial components of the Affordable Care Act, preserving the subsidies for Americans receiving insurance on the federal exchange, and dealing a decisive blow to Republican opponents of the law, for whom the case, King v. Burwell, was a last-ditch effort to kill the legislation.

The majority opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.”

This latest — and presumably final significant — challenge to the ACA was a nakedly political case that hinged on four words of the law that were widely acknowledged to be a careless, sloppy mistake.

The plaintiffs in King v. Burwell alleged that subsidies offered to low- and middle-income Americans buying insurance on federal exchanges were not permitted under the legislation as it was passed. The exact wording of the statute says subsidies are only available to those who purchase insurance on exchanges “established by the State.”

The words make little sense in context with the rest of the legislation — since the federal exchanges only exist for people who live in states that did not set up their own exchanges.

“The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting,” according to the majority opinion. “When read in context, the phrase ‘an Exchange established by the State […]’ is properly viewed as ambiguous.”

The majority opinion found that:

the Act’s context and structure compel the conclusion that … [the section in question] allows tax credits for insurance purchased on any Exchange created under the Act. Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that to interpret the phrase “Exchange established by the State” to mean “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government […] is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.” Further, the majority opinion was a “defense of the indefensible.”

Scalia continued:

Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.”

[…] Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.

Scalia accused the six Justices in the majority of performing “somersaults of statutory interpretation” in defense of the law.

This is a characteristic backflip from Scalia, who in a 1989 concurrence in the case of Green v. Bock Laundry, had no trouble justifying a departure from the strict definition of a word, when interpreting the phrasing literally produced an undesirable and unintended result:

We are confronted here with a statute which, if interpreted literally, produces an absurd, and perhaps unconstitutional, result. […]

I think it entirely appropriate to consult all public materials, including the background of [the Rule at issue] and the legislative history of its adoption, to verify that what seems to us an unthinkable disposition […] was indeed unthought of, and thus to justify a departure from the ordinary meaning of the word “defendant” in the Rule.

Photo: Will O’Neill via Flickr

This story has been updated.

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Copyright 2015 The National Memo
  • bobnstuff

    So, the Republicans are as good at litigating as they are at legislating. Why can’t they look at the bill, see what is working and fix that which isn’t working. It was once what they did but that was when they put the country first.

    • smilee

      You are right but they changed their agenda to one of destroying goverment as ever since Reagan declared government as the villian they have had this agenda. and it has destroyed much for we the people. Until enoough people wake up to this fact it will continue.

    • CPAinNewYork

      It’s also what they did when Mittens Romney was governor of Massachusetts. Remember Romneycare?

  • jmprint

    Congratulations President Obama, you have done something positive for the people, by the people and I hadn’t felt this happy about a political decision in over 3 decades.

    • Lelandjames

      Drink more Kool Aide, it seems to quench your thirst for stupidity!!!

      • Says the perennial champion of the daily “kool-aid” contests.

      • smilee

        If kool aide quenches thirst for stupidity you must be an addicit of kool aid as your comment is real stupid.

      • CPAinNewYork

        Lelandjames: If that’s your response to jmprint, then you’re a total idiot.

      • jmprint

        I am interested in knowing why you think I’m stupid for being happy that I also can be insured.

      • Independent1

        What Republican president in the past 100 plus years has done anything to save over 100,000 Americans their lives? Or hospitals and states (read taxpayers) billions of dollars in reduced healthcare reimbursement costs? Or greatly improved the healthcare provided in hospitals by forcing them to cleanup the healthcare they provide by refusing to pay for the costs of care they have o give people THEY made sick? Like so many apparent RWNJs you need to open your eyes and ears!

  • stcroixcarp

    Now Scottie Walker has no excuse for not accepting the medicaid money and also establishing the state exchange so that the people of Wisconsin can enjoy lower health insurance coverage and better service and also put money back into the state coffers! Obamacare is here to stay!

  • Patricia McCullough

    The law is working. Even the GOP knows this. They just cannot stand to see President Obama win anything.

    • smilee

      They are breathing a sigh of relief as now they do not have to face all those who would have lost their insurance and can keep blaming Obama instead of them being blamed for taking insurance away. They of course will not admit it.

      • CPAinNewYork

        Let’s see if I understand what you wrote: The far right is happy over the decision, because now they cannot be blamed for denying people insurance.

        Is that what you just wrote? You really mean to say that? You do? Well Smilee, i have bad news for you: You’re either trying to make a weak joke or you’re in space. This is a major defeat for the far right, because the Krotch brothers’ money proved to be totally ineffective.

        • Kanye Wiest

          The Right didn’t get what they want, but it’s true that it’s good for them politically to not have to face this issue in 2016. They were saved from themselves.

          • smilee


        • smilee

          Sure it was a major defeat for the GOP but things changed after they started this law suit and they will not admit it but it is a defeat they now wanted but cannot admit to. Things would have been worse for them had they won and they now know it.

        • Seems that’s two for two, guess their money DOES stink.

        • Independent1

          It’s really only a defeat in principle, not reality. Whatever defeat they may pretend to feel today, pales in comparison to the defeat the GOP would have had in 2016 when they suffered the wrath of the millions of Americans who would have suddenly lost health insurance they could no longer afford, and that of the other millions of Americans who would have seen their health insurance rates skyrocket when the ACA controls on those rate increases may well have come to an end. There were going to be millions of Americans very unhappy with the GOP voting in 2016 had SCOTUS trashed Obamacare.

  • Oh, the discomfiture of the GOP and its minions over this ruling is so palpable and their anguished voices so loud that the din can be heard across the nation. The nerve of some of us to try to help others is antithetical to the ideology of the far-Right that interprets all acts of empathy and being of assistance to the unfortunate as synonymous with being a communist. “Behold the confusion of the tribes of the defeated” is a biblical theme that comes to mind. (The tribes of the Old Confederacy are similarly in a daze and out of touch with the spirit of this new Day and Age inaugurated in 1844 and re-announced in 1863).

    Oh well, the spirit of Nimrod and Pharoah that suffuses the Conservative elements in America will, undoubtedly, urge those individuals to regroup and mount a fresh counter-offensive—the forces of darkness never rest.

    Sorry to be melodramatic, but sometimes you have to frame the disarray of the Right in terms that they might(and that’s a huge stretch) be able to relate to.

    • Independent1

      While on the side, they’re secretly saying, “Phew we really dodged a bullet that time.” Had SCOTUS scuttled Obamacare, 2016 could really have been a debacle for the GOP.

    • Not so dramatic when you look waaaay back and note that the same block heads have been trying to defunct social security since it’s enactment.. The only reason it hasn’t been receiving faux attention is the fact that their second hated Dem president wants to screw the pup and help the people and that’s just too many dems to hate at any one time by those two-dimensional wankers.

  • elw

    Well what pleasant news to wake up to. I would bet the ERs are full of Conservative Republicans with exploding heads. I am sure their comments will reflex that. I am so happy for those 6.5 million people who can now stop worrying and the executives in Health Care who can now take a deep breath and move on.

  • CPAinNewYork

    Even if I disagreed with Justice Scalia in the past, I respected his arguments. In this case, his rationale for dissenting is silly, given his tendency in the past for interpreting the wording of a law broadly when doing so conformed to his conservative views.

    He has made a fool of himself and revealed himself as a mouthpiece for the far right.

    • Paul Bass

      Are pigs flying? 😉
      Two thumbs up, i agree whole-heartedly!
      Have a great day.

    • Independent1

      When you’re constantly being wined and dined by the likes of Sheldon Adelson, the Koch Bros and other right wingers, guess where your loyalties lie!!

    • FireBaron

      And we all forget about Silent Clarence. After all, his wife works for one of the Right Wing lobbying firms, and has been directly involved with getting the ACA repealed since the day it was passed. If anyone was a shill vote on this case, it was him.

  • jakenhyde

    If Scalia thinks that words no longer have meaning, he should look in the mirror. He no longer has meaning. Well, he never did. He doesn’t base his rulings on the constitution. He bases them on his personal, political, and religious beliefs. You can bet the pink slip on you house that regardless of how the SCOTUS rules on same sex marriage, Scalia will vote against it. That, even though the 14th amendment is very clear in it’s statement on equality. Actually, the same can be said for Thomas.

    • Mikey7a

      I can’t wait for 2016. Hilary Clinton will be President, and will replace at least two of these RWNJ members of SCOTUS!

  • Lynda Groom

    Common sense over heated hyperbole. The Court did well today with the exception of 3 who chose 4 words over content and intent.

    • FireBaron

      When those same three often chose reading between the lines to determine the content and intent of what they want to support

  • Carolyn1520

    Now the right wing politicians and contestants on the clown bus can huff and puff and vow to abolish it when they once again don’t get elected. The politicians are breathing a secret sigh of relief though as they didn’t have a plan B for the many of their constituents who depend on the subsidies.

    • Mikey7a

      It’s comical to me, that these morons running on the Platform of reversing The ACA, seem to be clueless, that over two thirds of The Nation support it, and threatening to end ACA, might be the very reason that they will NOT be The President! I love it!!!

  • Dominick Vila

    Common sense prevailed! The end of healthcare subsidies to people who cannot afford astronomical insurance premiums, supported by those who have no problem giving subsidies to wealthy farmers, like Michele Bachman, or to oil companies that post record profits and do not need public help, has been averted. The next step is to vote in 2016 to ensure the make up of the SCOTUS is not changed in favor of those who support a transition to a plutocracy where only the wealthiest among us can enjoy the best our society and our national wealth can support.