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“Not So Fast Bucko’s”: Anti-Obamacare Desperation Lawsuit Just Got More Desperate

The D.C. Circuit just agreed to hear the Halbig lawsuit. The short explanation of what this means is that it has closed off the easiest path to crippling Obamacare. Here’s the long explanation:

1. The Halbig lawsuit is the right’s most recent desperate effort to retroactively nullify the Affordable Care Act. The lawsuit is a wildly tendentious argument that, based on an extremely narrow reading of one ambiguous passage in the health-care law, people in states with federal-run insurance exchanges should be ineligible. Since the tax credits make insurance affordable for most consumers, the lawsuit would wreck the exchanges for some 6.5 million people, which is its entire point.

2. The Halbig suit has previously been laughed out of court, but in July, two out of three judges from the D.C. Circuit agreed with it. This ruling reflected the luck of the draw — the two judges were Republican appointees on a court consisting mostly of Democratic appointees.

3. This created a split, with some courts dismissing Halbig and another one embracing it. The split created an obvious window for the Supreme Court to take up the case — contrasting opinions between Federal Courts is a common reason for the Supreme Court to take up a case.

4. The split would close if the entire D.C. Circuit took up the case. In important cases with split decisions, the entire court usually weighs in. Conservatives desperately wanted to avoid this, for the reason stated above. They undertook a furious public campaign (see, for instance, here and here) to persuade the Court not to hear Halbig as a whole. Their rationale is that the Halbig lawsuit is not legally important enough to merit a full hearing. That argument is as ridiculous and transparently partisan as it sounds. Nicholas Bagley explains why here.

5. What happens next is that the entire D.C. Circuit will hear the case. Since the logic of the lawsuit is so ludicrous only a wildly partisan Republican jurist would ever accept it, it stands zero chance of success.

6. After that, Federal Courts will be unanimous in opposition to the Halbig lawsuit. The Supreme Court could still take up the case then, but it could just as easily decide not to hear it.


By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, September 4, 2014

September 6, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, D. C. Court of Appeals | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Conservative Judiciary Run Amok”: Using Judicial Sophistry As An Instrument Of Anti-Democratic Sabotage

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens captured our ideal when he wrote of the judge as “an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”

By effectively gutting the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, two members of a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals showed how far right-leaning jurists have strayed from such impartiality. We are confronted with a conservative judiciary that will use any argument it can muster to win ideological victories that elude their side in the elected branches of our government.

Fortunately, the D.C. Circuit ruling is unlikely to stand. On the same day the D.C. panel issued its opinion, a three-judge panel from the 4th Circuit ruled unanimously the other way, upholding the law.

There is a good chance that the 11-judge D.C. Circuit will take the decision away from its panel — something it is usually reluctant to do — and rule as a full court to affirm the ACA as commonly understood. It is virtually certain that a majority of the court’s members disagrees with the panel’s convoluted reading of the law and wants to avoid creating a needless conflict in jurisprudence with the 4th Circuit.

When Congress wrote the health law, it envisioned that the states would set up the insurance exchanges where individuals could purchase coverage. But knowing that some states might not want to set up these marketplaces themselves, it also created a federal exchange for those that bowed out. There are 36 states under the federal exchange.

The law includes a mandate requiring Americans to buy health insurance and subsidizes those who need help to pay their premiums. The law falls apart without the subsidies, which go to its central purpose: providing insurance for those who cannot afford it.

But the law was not particularly well-drafted. It’s not uniquely flawed in this respect. As Judge Andre M. Davis wrote in a concurrence to the 4th Circuit ruling: “Neither the canons of construction nor any empirical analysis suggests that congressional drafting is a perfectly harmonious, symmetrical and elegant endeavor. . . . Sausage-makers are indeed offended when their craft is linked to legislating.”

Here’s what the two Republican-appointed judges on the D.C. panel did to make the sausage disappear entirely: Because the subsidies are established in a part of the law referring to state exchanges, the D.C. Circuit ruled that no one on the federal exchange is eligible for them.

Poof! There goes the health law in most of the country.

Never mind that many other parts of the law clearly assume that the subsidies apply to people on both the state and federal exchanges. And never mind that during the very long debate over the ACA, no one ever said otherwise.

In ruling to kill the subsidies for an estimated 5 million people on the federal exchange, Judge Thomas B. Griffith invents the idea that Congress may have intended to deny subsidies to people in states that didn’t set up their own exchanges as an incentive for those states to do so. But as Judge Harry T. Edwards writes in his dissent, the “incentive story is a fiction, a post hoc narrative” to justify the idea that “Congress would have wanted insurance markets to collapse in states that elected not to create their own exchanges.”

The extreme judicial activism here is obvious when you consider, as the 4th Circuit did, that even if you accept that there is ambiguity in the law, the Supreme Court’s 30-year-old precedent in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council held that in instances of uncertainty, the court defers to federal agencies rather than concocting textual clarity when it doesn’t exist.

Griffith has to pretend that his cramped reading of the written text — again, a reading utterly disconnected from the reality of the law’s history — is the only one possible. From there, he goes on to force the government and those losing their subsidies to live with a patently absurd result.

Edwards’s logic is compelling: The Griffith decision “defies the will of Congress” and goes along with a “not-so-veiled attempt to gut the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

As the 4th Circuit’s Davis put it, the law’s opponents are trying “to deny to millions of Americans desperately needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction” of the law.

We cannot use judicial sophistry as an instrument of anti-democratic sabotage.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 23, 2014

July 24, 2014 Posted by | 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Affordable Care Act, D. C. Court of Appeals | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Preposterous”: The Lethal Legal Threat To Obamacare That Could Land This Week And End It All

With all the headline grabbing going on over the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision, many pundits have not been paying much attention to another case set for a decision from the influential D.C. Court of Appeals as soon as this week—a decision that could, realistically, finish off Obamacare once and for all.

In Halbig v. Burwell, a challenge has been lodged by opponents of the Affordable Care Act who argue that the language of the law restricts government provided subsidies to state operated exchanges only—meaning that the premium subsidies being offered to qualified purchasers in the 34 states where the federal government is operating the healthcare exchanges, are illegal under the law.

The plaintiffs in the case explain their position as follows:

“The premium-assistance tax credit provisions of the PPACA clearly, consistently, and unambiguously authorize tax credits only in states that establish a health insurance “exchange” that complies with federal law. Specifically, Section 36B authorizes tax credits for the purchase of qualifying health insurance plans only in exchanges “established by a state under Section 1311…The IRS rule, by contrast, purports to authorize tax credits in Exchanges that are neither “established by the State” nor “established . . . under Section 1311.” This it cannot do. Because the language of the PPACA speaks directly to the question at issue, the IRS has no authority to provide tax credits in federal exchanges, nor is the IRS due deference in its interpretation of the Act.”

While it is generally agreed that the Congressional leaders who wrote the PPACA intended the premiums to be available via all health insurance exchanges—whether operated by the state itself, or the federal government in the instance of states not setting up their own exchanges—the plaintiff argues that the statutory language is clear and must be interpreted and enforced per the clear statement of the law.

If you think that those attempting to undo Obamacare are making a far-fetched argument—and a ruling from the Court of Appeals holding that the premium supports were only meant for state run exchanges would, in all likelihood, irrevocably tank the law—you are not alone.

Federal District Court Judge Paul Friedman held that the plaintiff’s claims were “unpersuasive” and that, since the federally run exchanges are created and operated on behalf of the states that chose not to do so, the federally operated exchanges were intended by Congress to be treated as state operated exchanges.

However, there are more than a few highly qualified legal experts who are not so sure that Judge Friedman got this right and believe that the result could be very different in the Court of Appeals.

Jonathan Turley—the widely respected constitutional law expert, television analyst and professor of law at George Washington University Law School—notes:

“Of all the challenges since the individual mandate, this is the one that presents the most mortal threat to the act. If this case were decided on the basis of the statutory language, the advantage goes to the challengers. If the court is willing to broaden its interpretation then the administration may have an edge. It depends entirely on how the panel structures its analysis.”

Put another way, the language pretty clearly says one thing even if the intent was something else.

So, should the D.C. Court of Appeals be willing to review the legislative history—and the Friend of the Court brief submitted and signed by the Congressional leaders responsible for drafting the law which purports to inform the Court of their actual intent—or give plain meaning to what the statute actually says?

As Sahil Kapur reports , two members of the three judge panel hearing the case appeared, in oral arguments, to have considerable sympathy for the anti-Obamacare point of view.

Points out Judge A. Raymond Randolph, appointed to his seat by President George H.W. Bush, “If the legislation is just stupid, I don’t see that it’s up to the court to save it. ” Meanwhile, Judge Thomas Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee,  was a bit more reserved in his take on the case but did not fail to point out that there was a special burden on the Obama Administration (defending the action) to prove that the statutory language does not mean what it appears, on its face, to mean.

Only Democratic appointee, Judge Harry T. Edwards, took the position that the plaintiff’s claims were “preposterous”.

Should we get a decision in favor of the challenger here, Obamacare bashers might wish to withhold their enthusiasm as the Obama Administration will surely exercise its right to appeal the three judge panel’s ruling to the full D.C. Court of Appeals via an en banc motion.

Given that the full D.C. Court of Appeals includes seven Democratic appointees and only four Republican appointees, a vote of the entire court could well result in a very different decision.


By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, July 7, 2014

July 8, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, D. C. Court of Appeals, Obamacare | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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