King v. Burwell: Words Have No Meaning if Inconvenient

Some words apparently have no meaning, even when written in plain English, according to a majority of Supreme Court justices. Today the Court reached its long awaited decision in King v. Burwell. The Court ruled 6-3 for Burwell, holding that the federal subsidies can continue to flow to states that have not established an exchange.

Chief Justice Roberts once again wrote the opinion defending ObamaCare, and was joined by Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justices Thomas and Alito.

The text of ObamaCare was clear, federal subsidies were only available for insurance that purchased through exchanges “established by the states.” Today six justices, who are supposed to represent the best of the legal community, have turned these plain words on their head. These six justices have decided that “established by the states” can also mean established by the federal government.

Whereas most Americans see plain meaning in the words “established by the states,” Chief Justice Roberts saw ambiguity. Writing for the Court, the Chief Justice wrote that the law was not clear, but that the intention of the law was to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them. Much of his opinion was focused on protecting ObamaCare from a “death spiral.”

This is the second time the Chief Justice has mounted his horse to ride to the defense of the troubled health care law, ObamaCare. He seems to be under the belief that one of his roles as Chief Justice is to defend an unpopular law that is destined to fail.

This fact has not escaped the attention of Justice Scalia. In his dissent, Scalia said that we should start calling ObamaCare, “SCOTUSCare.” At the end of his dissent, Scalia wrote, “[t]he somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (“penalty” means tax, “further [Medicaid] payments to the State” means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, “established by the State” means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence. And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”

It is not the role of the Court to protect poorly written law or delve into what the intent of Congress was. The role of the Court is to uphold the rule of law by looking at the text of laws and determine their constitutionality, and whether an agency has gone beyond its authority.

Here the IRS was told to give subsidies to qualified individuals who purchased health insurance from an exchange “established by the states.” The IRS went beyond their authority and granted subsidies to people who also purchased health insurance from the federal exchange. Today six justices of the Supreme Court granted legitimacy to this unlawful action perpetrated by the IRS.

Even with this decision, ObamaCare is still a troubled law. Premiums are soaring in many states, and deductibles were also high. Not enough young people are purchasing insurance which will cause prices to rise even higher in the coming years. This decision does not so much save ObamaCare, but delay its inevitable failure. The victory will be that much sweeter once “we the people” are able to defeat the law, not through the Court, but by a grassroots uprising.

Justice is supposed to be blind, and from this decision, apparently so are some of the justices. With the Court working its hardest to protect the law, it falls on “we the people” to bring about ObamaCare’s end.