mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Legislative Interpretations”: Did Those Republican Judges Ever Go To Law School?

Six federal judges ruled Tuesday on the legality of subsidies being provided for low-income subscribers under so-called Obamacare. The two with solid Republican credentials found the program illegal.

With all due respect to these members of the esteemed federal bench, I have to question whether they really went to law school – or, if they did, whether they ever tended a class in legislation. Because if they did, they should have been aware of two fundamental principles of legislative interpretation: (1) courts should defer to the obvious intent of the legislature; and (2) they should also defer to the interpretation of legislation provided by the administrative agency charged with its enforcement.

The statute provides for health exchanges in the states to run the program, and provides a back up for federal exchanges to administer them when the states decline to participate. The statute includes a provision that allows the Internal Revenue Service to provide tax subsidies to those enrolled in the “state” exchanges.

It is clear that Congress never expected 36 states (mostly those controlled by Republican governors or legislatures) to opt out. It should be equally clear that Congress never intended to deny subsidies to those citizens living in opt-out states.

But the two Republican judges sitting on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, blindly adopted the bizarre argument of the law’s challengers that under a literal reading of the statute only state enrollees were entitled to the subsidies.

On the same day, another federal appeals court sitting in Virginia unanimously ruled the other way. In that decision, Judge Andre Davis ridiculed the argument adopted by the two majority judges in D.C. He wrote that “[plaintiffs want to] deny to millions of Americans desperately needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose… could not be more clear.” But that was precisely the “tortured, nonsensical” position taken by the D.C. duo to the dismay of their colleague, the senior judge on the D.C. Circuit, Harry Edwards.

Then comes the Chevron doctrine. Chevron is a long-standing doctrine established by the Supreme Court that it was the obligation of courts when interpreting statutes to give deference to the interpretation of the statute by the administrative agency entrusted by Congress with its implementation.

In this instance, it was the Internal Revenue Service which had primary responsibility for implementing the health care subsidies. But the D.C. majority ignored the IRS interpretation.

To be fair to the D.C. majority, there is another doctrine which they chose to follow. It is called “textualism,” and its primary exponent is Justice Anton Scalia, the legal guru of conservatism. And this principle seems to say implement the clear terms of the statute no matter how absurd – or “nonsensical” – the result. But as Scalia’s critics like to point out, he generally invokes that principle only when it brings about a result he is ideologically comfortable with.

Obviously, these cases will have to be reconciled by the United States Supreme Court. And, fortunately for the millions of persons entitled to health care subsidies in the 36 states with federal health exchanges, Scalia’s “textualism” does not have a lot of adherents, even among his conservative colleagues on the high court.

 

By: Frank Askin, Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School-Newark; The Huffington Post Blog, July 30, 2014

July 31, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Federal Judiciary, Tax Subsidies | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Arrogance Cloaked In Humility”: Conservative Judges Are Ganging Up To Steal Your Affordable Healthcare

Tuesday morning, two competing courts – and the conservative judges turned silent partisan assassins that dominate them – put at risk the affordable health insurance on which millions of Americans have already come to rely. These six robed men in Washington and Virginia, within about two hours, have now set up yet another US supreme court showdown on the Obamacare law Republicans on Capitol Hill just couldn’t kill, despite trying more than 50 times.

Up first: an outrageous two-to-one decision by a panel of the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruling against sensible subsidies that real people need, based on what we can charitably called the “reasoning” of the two Republican nominees on the three-judge panel – the opinion was written by an appointee of George HW Bush, along with a judge nominated by his son.

They were asked to decide on the legality of the subsidies based on the precise wording of the Affordable Care Act, which provided health benefits to non-affluent Americans purchasing insurance from federal exchanges newly established under President Obama’s signature health-care law. In the literal language of the statute, subsidies are available to those purchasing insurance on “state exchanges”, although a majority of exchanges were ultimately established in the states by the federal government because of state-level Republican hostility to the law. Sensibly, the Internal Revenue Service allowed anyone who purchased from any exchange – federal or state – to qualify for the subsidies.

The Bush-appointed judges, however, aren’t much for being sensible: they ruled instead that only those who purchase insurance from the exchanges established by the states are allowed subsidies.

In what can only be described as black comedy, the majority opinion concludes with paeans to judicial restraint. (One is reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Walrus, “deeply sympathizing” with oysters prior to having “eaten every one”.) “We reach this conclusion, frankly, with reluctance,” the majority wrote, going on to concede the following:

[O]ur ruling will likely have significant consequences both for the millions of individuals receiving tax credits through federal Exchanges and for health insurance markets more broadly.

But they are compelled, you see, to inflict these consequences as a means of “ensuring that policy is made by elected, politically accountable representatives, not by appointed, life-tenured judges.” For two judges to subvert the clear purpose of the law in the name of judicial restraint is, to borrow Justice William Brennan’s phrase, arrogance cloaked as humility.

The sole dissenting judge, Harry Edwards, in his tour de force dissent, made clear his distaste for appointed judges making new law – and pointed out that the majority opinion requires the courts to ignore all the sound principles of statutory construction.

Congress clearly thought the subsidies were essential to the functioning of the exchanges, and it permitted the federal government to establish exchanges in order to prevent states from thwarting the aims of the ACA – which is to help people buy more affordable health insurance.

The majority’s reading, however, would allow hostile states to do exactly what the law was designed to prevent: by refusing to establish a state exchanges, they could effectively stop all the exchanges from working properly.

As Edwards observes, the majority’s interpretation “is implausible because it would destroy the fundamental policy structure and goals of the ACA that are apparent when the statute is read as a whole”. Plus, not a single state government – even those hostile to the law – believed that the statute demands what the majority says it does. Nobody is confused about what the law intended, but some people who oppose the ACA on political grounds are opportunistically pretending to be.

Meanwhile, just across the Potomac River, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals was charged with hearing a different case on the same question. But it ruled in favor of the administration, effectively siding with the first ruling’s minority opinion. That’s the sort of legal dichotomy – however strange the buzzer-beater timing – that pretty much guarantees the supreme court will ultimately answer this question for all the Americans using the federal exchanges.

That’s slim comfort for some: while most of the law narrowly survived a constitutional challenge that made it to the supreme court, the number of Americans covered by it would be much higher had the court not used bafflingly illogical reasoning to re-write the act’s Medicaid expansion in a separate ruling, which made it easier for states to opt out of that provision.

That’s all part of the Republican strategy, of course: once they lost their battle in Congress to ensure that as many non-affluent Americans as possible would continue to experience the “freedom” of going without health insurance coverage, they’ve been throwing ad hoc legal arguments at the ACA, hoping that something would stick.

Don’t be fooled that the judges who hear these challenges are not influenced by the ongoing political partisanship. As Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress demonstrated, both judges who ruled against the subsidies today are highly partisan Republicans.

Despite Republican efforts, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine published last week found that 20m Americans are now covered by the exchanges and Medicaid expansion created by the Affordable Care Act. For all its imperfections, the law is a striking policy success and has done a great deal to address a major national problem. However, the Republican party – and most of its agents on the federal courts – would still prefer the number of Americans who benefit from the law to be much lower, as evidenced by their legal strategy.

The only good news is that this decision against the subsidies may not stand. The federal government is expected to appeal for a hearing from the entire DC circuit court, and it is unlikely that the full court would reach the same conclusion. It’s also far from clear that opponents’ argument could command a majority of the supreme court, where the cases are probably headed.

But it’s still remarkable that an argument this legally weak – and with such destructive human consequences – could command support from the majority of an appellate panel. Given the active Republican hostility to the Affordable Care Act, and the party’s utter indifference to the fate of the millions of people is helping, there’s no way to be entirely confident that the supreme court won’t use the opportunity of a new case to take something else away from the Americans who need it.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Guardian, July 22, 2014

 

 

July 23, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Obamacare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: