Justice Antonin Scalia did not simply lose today’s key ruling on the federal health insurance subsidies for the Affordable Care Act — he had his own previous arguments turned against him.
The majority opinion issued today, written principally by Chief Justice John Roberts — whose crucial vote previously upheld Obamacare back in 2012 — illustrated the idea of the insurance subsidies being an integral part of health care reform itself.
And the absurdity of just striking out subsidies for people living in states with federally run exchanges — as Scalia and his fellow dissenters insisted had to be done under the law — was illustrated by citing… Antonin Scalia, from his earlier efforts to stamp out health care reform.
It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner. See National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 […] (SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., dissenting) […] (“Without the federal subsidies . . . the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.”).
That is, Roberts and company cited the dissent in the first major Obamacare case, from 2012, when the dissenters — Scalia being one of them — tried to say that pretty much each every single facet of the Affordable Care Act was not only wrong but unconstitutional, and that they interlocked so completely that by striking down even one of them, the entire Act would have to fall.
As a political staffer friend, who is a trained lawyer (though not currently practicing), tells me: “The problem with results-oriented jurisprudence is it makes hypocrisy easy to spot.”
The full paragraph in that original dissent is as follows:
In the absence of federal subsidies to purchasers, insurance companies will have little incentive to sell insurance on the exchanges. Under the ACA’s scheme, few, if any, individuals would want to buy individual insurance policies outside of an exchange, because federal subsidies would be unavailable outside of an exchange. Difficulty in attracting individuals outside of the exchange would in turn motivate insurers to enter exchanges, despite the exchanges’ onerous regulations. […] That system of incentives collapses if the federal subsidies are invalidated. Without the federal subsidies, individuals would lose the main incentive to purchase insurance inside the exchanges, and some insurers may be unwilling to offer insurance inside of exchanges. With fewer buyers and even fewer sellers, the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.
By: Eric Kleefeld, The National Memo, June 25, 2015
“Conservatives Lost Outright”: John Roberts, Liberal Hero; How The Chief Justice Destroyed The Conservative Case Against ObamaCare
Since ObamaCare passed in 2010, Republicans have been searching desperately for a way to destroy the law through legal trickery (or as they call it, “judicial activism”), since they don’t have the means to kill it through legislation. In 2012, with the Supreme Court decision NFIB v. Sebelius, they got a partial victory, with the court badly wounding the law’s Medicaid expansion but leaving the rest unharmed.
In the case decided on Thursday, King v. Burwell, conservatives sought to cripple the insurance markets in states that had not set up their own health care exchanges. They did this by advancing a spurious reading of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would forbid insurance subsidies from flowing through the federal exchange website, thus devastating the private insurance markets in those states.
This time, conservatives lost outright. Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy and the four liberals on the bench, wrote the opinion — and it delivers a stark rebuke to the conservatives who have been fumbling around for an alternative to ObamaCare since 2010. “Repeal and replace” has been their mantra, but they never even got close to uniting around an actual replacement policy. Today, Roberts shows us why: It’s impossible.
King focused on a single phrase in the ACA, “established by the State,” which, taken out of all legal and policy context, could be construed to restrict subsidies to the state exchanges only. Because the Chevron doctrine requires that, in case of ambiguous wording, the implementing agencies get to decide how to interpret a law (in this case the IRS), it was necessary to construct an alternate history of the ACA. In this version, Congress meant to restrict subsidies to the state exchanges, to coerce states into creating one.
Liberals carefully explained that no, that was a completely insane version of ObamaCare’s history. Health care policy reporters, the staffers who drafted the law, and members of Congress who voted for it all swore up and down that this had never even been seriously discussed, let alone that it was their intention. State-level politicians, who are responsible for deciding whether to create their own exchanges, reported they had never heard of such a threat. Why would Congress create a mechanism to force states to do something, and then never mention it?
Roberts’ opinion delivers total victory to the liberal case. First, he examines the statute and finds that, in fact, it is not ambiguous — the government’s interpretation is correct. He writes that, considered in context, the plaintiff’s reading of “established by the State” would make great swathes of the rest of the law totally nonsensical. The ACA clearly states that all exchanges are to provide qualified plans to qualified people, which would be impossible for the federal exchange without subsidies. Moreover, why would the law provide for a creation of a federal exchange at all, if nobody can actually use it?
Second, and more fundamentally, Roberts finds that the plaintiff’s reading of ACA is poles apart from the obvious policy intention of the law. He accurately describes ObamaCare’s three-pronged approach: guaranteed issue and community rating, requiring insurance companies to offer policies to everyone at a reasonable price; an individual mandate, so that healthy people will participate in the risk pool; and subsidies for people who can’t afford the insurance.
All three are necessary for ObamaCare to work, but the plaintiffs’ reading would eliminate two of the three prongs in states without their own exchange. Subsidies would go, and so would the individual mandate, because it doesn’t apply if people are spending more than 8 percent of their income on a policy. Roberts notes that this would likely cause an insurance death spiral in those states, as healthier people flee an increasingly expensive market, turning the ACA into a health insurance doomsday device. Indeed, just such a death spiral happened in several states before ObamaCare passed — which is partly why it included all three prongs. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” he concludes.
That brings me to the “replacement” rhetoric. Roberts’ clear account of ObamaCare’s policy mechanism, and the damage that would be done should any of its main prongs be removed, deals a body blow to the conservative health care wonks who have been trying to cook up a replacement policy for the last five years — in particular, a plan without the unpopular individual mandate. But as Roberts plainly shows, that leads straight to disaster.
It’s an implicit concession that ObamaCare is the most conservative possible policy that could get even close to universal coverage — if five years of Republican policy failure weren’t enough evidence.
By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, June 25, 2015
“Antonin Scalia’s ‘Interpretive Jiggery-Pokery'”: With Increasing Frequency, Scalia’s Reputation Continues To Deteriorate
Two years ago tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, much to Justice Antonin Scalia’s chagrin. Adding to his greatest-hits list, the far-right jurist called the majority’s rationale “legalistic argle-bargle.”
Today, as my msnbc colleague Irin Carmon reported, Scalia was once again in rare form today in his King v. Burwell dissent.
Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. Writing on their behalf, Scalia accused the majority of acting in bad faith just to save the law. “So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” Scalia wrote in the dissent. He said Roberts’ reasoning was an act of “interpretive jiggery-pokery.”
No, seriously. Scalia actually used the phrase “interpretive jiggery-pokery.” It’s on page 8. Two pages later, he published the phrase “pure applesauce” as a complete sentence.
The justice has been embarrassing himself with increasing frequency, but Scalia’s reputation continues to deteriorate further.
The broader point, however, is less about the justice’s strange word choice and more about his increasingly twisted approach to the law.
The dissent in King is literally hard to believe. On page 17 of the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts even mocks the dissenters for making the opposite conclusion that they drew three years ago:
“It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner. See National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U. S. ___, ___ (2012) (SCALIA, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and ALITO, JJ., dissenting) (slip op., at 60) (“Without the federal subsidies … the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all.”).
It’s no small detail. Three years ago, when the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality was challenged, Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Sam Alito read the law in such a way as to see all eligible consumers receiving subsidies, regardless of state or federal exchanges. In today’s dissent, these three had to read the law in the polar opposite way.
And therein lies the point: it seems as if the dissenting justices were so eager to rule against “Obamacare” that they were willing to ignore legislative history, legislative intent, context, and their own beliefs from three years ago.
I’m also reminded of this Linda Greenhouse piece from February.
Statutory interpretation is something the Supreme Court does all the time, week in and week out, term after term. And while the justices have irreconcilable differences over how to interpret the Constitution, they actually all agree on how to interpret statutory text. […]
Every justice subscribes to the notion that statutory language has to be understood in context. Justice Scalia said it from the bench just last month, during an argument about the proper interpretation of the federal Fair Housing Act. “When we look at a provision of law, we look at the entire provision of law, including later amendments,” Justice Scalia said. “We try to make sense of the law as a whole.” … Across the ideological spectrum, the court’s opinions are filled with comments like Justice Scalia’s.
Today, Scalia threw all of that out the window, saying what matters isn’t the entire provision of law, but how he could take half a sentence out of context to undermine a law he doesn’t like.
“Words no longer have meaning,” Scalia whined today. In reality, words are still fine. What lacks meaning are Scalia’s unhinged complaints.
By: Steve Benen, The Madow Blog, June 25, 2015
“Watch What You Pray For, You May Get It”: Republicans Have Boxed Themselves In A Corner On Obamacare
There’s an adage that perfectly captures the Republicans’ conundrum on Obamacare: Watch what you pray for; you may get it. Having spent the past five years viciously battling the Affordable Care Act, GOP leaders are worried that the U.S. Supreme Court may grant them a victory.
If the high court rules in favor of conservatives who have challenged the health care law — essentially gutting it — millions of Americans will lose the subsidies that allow them to purchase health insurance.
They’ll no longer be able to afford to see a doctor. They won’t be able to pay for knee replacements or chemotherapy treatments. They won’t have the money for drugs for hypertension and diabetes.
And they’ll be furious — just in time for the 2016 presidential election. Now that so many people have reaped the benefits of access to medical care, they want to keep enjoying them. They will be fighting mad if their health insurance is suddenly taken away.
That’s because the Affordable Care Act is doing exactly what it was designed to do. Consider a report from the highly respected RAND Corp. — a nonpartisan research group — which issued its latest judgment on the Affordable Care Act in May.
Its study found that nearly 17 million people now have health insurance because of Obamacare. In addition, families may keep adult children on their policies until age 26. There are no longer “lifetime caps” that limit the amount of money insurers will spend on the chronically ill. Patients are no longer turned down for health insurance because they are already sick.
“The Affordable Care Act has greatly expanded health insurance coverage, but it has caused little change in the way most previously covered Americans are getting health insurance coverage,” said Katherine Carman, who, according to a RAND press release, was the study’s lead author. In other words, the law didn’t wreak havoc on those who already had health insurance, as its critics had predicted.
It has slowly dawned on some Republican leaders that the law has provided tangible benefits to millions of Americans, and that they are likely to be blamed if those benefits are jerked away. But they have locked themselves into a very small room and lost the key. They can’t seem to find a way out.
President Obama noted the GOP’s intransigence in a speech to the Catholic Health Association a few days ago. “Once you see millions of people having health care, once you see that all the bad things that were predicted didn’t happen, you’d think that it’d be time to move on. It seems so cynical to want to take coverage away from millions of people,” he said.
But leading GOP officials have taught their aging base, many of whom are Medicare recipients, that the passage of Obamacare was tantamount to a communist takeover. Republican politicians have insisted for years that the Affordable Care Act would corrupt the health care system, ruin the economy and pave the way for a dictatorship. Now, they’d have a hard time persuading those voters, especially the Tea Partiers, it was all just extreme partisan rhetoric.
This latest high court challenge, King v. Burwell, is itself a symbol of Republicans’ determination to strip health care away from millions of Americans. (It’s also a sign of the partisanship that has overtaken the nation’s highest court, which should never have accepted the case.) It’s a frivolous suit that turns on the interpretation of four words in the statute — even though it’s perfectly clear what Congress meant.
If the court agrees with the challenger, chaos will ensue. The GOP will have to take responsibility for finding coverage for millions of people, although its fractious caucus is unlikely to agree on a fix.
Given the stakes, there are undoubtedly those among GOP elders who want the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the status quo, even if they won’t say so publicly. After all, as Obama put it, “This isn’t … just about the Affordable Care Act. … This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another. This is health care in America.”
Let’s hope at least five justices concur.
By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary in 2007; Featured Post, The National Memo, June 13, 2015