The United States Supreme Court has voted 6-3 to uphold healthcare tax credits in the 34 state that opted not to establish state-run exchanges. In a similar fashion to the 2012 decision of National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Sebelius, the Court has bent over backwards to ensure that President Obama’s signature healthcare law remains in effect. As in the 2012 case, Chief Justice Roberts again wrote for the majority. Justice Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.
Briefly put, the legal challenge focuses on the fact that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as written authorizes the IRS only to allow tax subsidies for health insurance purchased through state-based exchanges. The challengers argued that in the 34 states where there are no state-based exchanges, there can be no federal subsidies — essentially crippling the entire ACA.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, had to base his opinion on the idea that the phrase “established by the States” in fact means “established by the States or the federal government.” He did this because, in his view, any other reading would result in there being “no ‘qualified individuals’ on Federal Exchanges,” and this would be in conflict with the overall purposes of the ACA. Unless, of course, the purpose of the ACA was to allow tax subsidies only to those who obtain insurance through state-based exchanges — i.e. what Congress explicitly said.
Justice Scalia disagreed. Writing for the three dissenting justices, he began by saying:
The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says “Exchange established by the State” it means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.” That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so.”
He went on to say that “Words no longer have meaning” if the Court can essentially rewrite a statute to fill the IRS’s desired meaning. He then made a very personal, poignant attack on the politics of the majority:
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.
Thus the Roberts court continues its legacy of bending over backwards to uphold President Obama’s policy agenda — all under the guise of acting as the neutral arbiter that the is required to be under Article III of our nation’s Constitution.