Scalia: ‘Words No Longer Have Meaning if an Exchange That is Not Established by a State is ‘Established by the State’Posted: June 25, 2015 | |
Did the chief justice mean what he said?
James Taranto writes: “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices,” Chief Justice John Roberts observed three years ago in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the case that is usually described—with a good deal of imprecision—as having “upheld” ObamaCare.
Did the chief justice mean what he said? Today the court delivered another ObamaCare ruling, this time entirely in the administration’s favor and by a vote of 6-3. Unlike in NFIB, the majority in King v. Burwell spoke with a single voice, Roberts’s. So did the dissenters, that of Justice Antonin Scalia.
As Scalia sums it up: “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.” The practical consequence is that despite the limiting language, tax subsidies will continue to flow to people who buy medical-insurance policies in the majority of states, which have not established exchanges.
The justices went further in the administration’s favor than the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose judgment they upheld. As Roberts explains (citations omitted here and in subsequent quotes): “The Fourth Circuit viewed the Act as ‘ambiguous and subject to at least two different interpretations.’ The [circuit] court therefore deferred to the IRS’s interpretation”—a doctrine known as Chevron deference.
In a similar case called Halbig v. Burwell, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had ruled that the statute was not ambiguous—that the provision limiting subsidies to policies purchased through “an Exchange established by the State” did in fact limit subsidies to policies purchased through “an Exchange established by the State.” As Scalia observes:
You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. . . . Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” Read the rest of this entry »