I’m not sure if I’m always the contrarian on this or I’ve just become so cynical that it’s almost impossible to surprise me with a “good” result, but today’s 6-3 ruling, in favor of maintaining Federal subsidies for state healthcare exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act is hardly shocking.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts determined that Congress, while too dumb to put it into words, intended to create a system that provided Federal subsidies to even those who were forced to use state healthcare exchanges to purchase their insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act. The majority of the court agreed with Roberts (except for Scalia, who is basically turning into that guy from Scarface every time he writes a dissent).
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court’s majority opinion and was joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The ruling, the second case in which the justices have decided in favor of the Affordable Care Act, preserves benefits for an estimated 6.4 million Americans and deals a crippling blow to the law’s Republican opponents, who have attempted to undermine it since its passage in 2010.
King v. Burwell centered on whether plaintiffs’ arguments that middle- and low-income adults who purchased health insurance through the federally run Healthcare.gov marketplace were entitled to subsidies based on the language of the law that says tax credits are only to be distributed for marketplaces “established by the state.”
The law’s architects countered that subsidies were always meant to be distributed through both channels, and that the goal of the law was to cover all Americans. The Supreme Court agreed.
From the conservative perspective, the law’s architect Jonathan Gruber’s intent that the law be structured so that the states would not receive subsidies through the Federal exchanges should win out over Congress’s intent that Federal subsidies flow to the states through the Federal exchange. The problem lies, of course, in the fact that Congress failed to read the law, so while Gruber’s original language configuring state exchanges appears to have actually made it into the law itself, Congress, which failed to do anything close to due diligence, proceeded to define a rubric for execution that totally ignored anything that the law actually said. So the Plaintiffs wanted Congress to abide by the law and the Defendants, who seem to have openly admitted that Congress is, as a whole, unable to read, wanted the Court to understand that Congress’s enforcement rubric should demonstrate its actual intent, not the letter of the law itself.
Unfortunately, at least for conservatives, the majority of SCOTUS agreed that, regardless of what Congress wrote, what Congress ultimately meant, and ultimately did, was what was important. The law remains intact to torture those in need of health insurance on a state level, ad infinitum.
I can go into detail on the court’s rationale, and the multiple conspiracy theories that now exist on social media explaining how Justice Roberts came to his decision in this case, but it’s probably not worth the pixels it would take to display it (although, I do like the theory that Barack Obama has information on exactly what Roberts doesn’t like to wear under his robes, thus blackmailing him into compliance). Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court’s position seems to boil down to one basic idea: that Obamacare is not SCOTUS’s f***ing problem. While it would like to miraculously obliterate the law, it effectively cannot (though Scalia seems to disagree) so please stop asking.
This cartoon of a dinosaur from the Internet cartoon site, The Oatmeal, is also helpfully illustrative in explaining how SCOTUS feels about everyone’s need to have them reformat Obamacare in an acceptable manner so as to not have to force any other branch (or Pesidential candidate) to take a serious position on repealing it.
SCOTUS does not want your problems, America.
There’s a bright light at the end of this tunnel, though, concerning the upcoming SCOTUS decision on gay marriage. In this case, the Supreme Court seems to want to avoid a sticky issue by merely deferring to the powers in charge of legislating the will of the people, at least as it concerns a controversial measure. Obviously, the tea leaves on any SCOTUS decision are inscrutable (despite what thousands of think-piece writers like myself might want you to believe) but Obergfell also involves a situation where the court would have to overturn several legislative bodies in order to enact the “will of the people.” It’s possible they may assign the same principles to the process (though there are, of course, other constitutional issues at stake).
There are two more decision days left in the Supreme Court’s term, tomorrow (which will likely see decisions on gerrymandering and capital punishment) and Monday, which is when the Obergfell decision is likely to drop, since SCOTUS usually likes to end with their most controversial ruling, as they’ll already all be safely on the way to their beach houses.