Words have meaning and their correct interpretation has consequences. This is fundamental to the rule of law. If laws can be interpreted differently by changing the meaning, then we have no laws.
Justice John Roberts, and five other Supreme Court justices, have rendered the meaning of words obsolete by their reinterpretation of four simple words. They have determined that exchanges “established by the State” really means exchanges established by either the states or the federal government.
This is the majority opinion handed down in the case of King v. Burwell, which was announced this past week. Chief Justice Roberts, in the only opinion expressed by the majority, said, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” Clearly, he is expressing concern for the results of this legislation rather than the legal wording of the statute.
In an earlier opinion on this same healthcare law, expressed in NFIB v. Sebelius in 2012, he said, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.” Yet he amended the law then, changing the Individual Mandate into a tax, rather than a penalty, to make it constitutional.
Once again, Roberts seems more concerned with the political outcome of a flawed law than the exact wording of that law. He assumes it was not the intent of Congress to write the law in the plain language of the statute. Yet writing the law that way preserved federalism, giving the states the choice to make their own decisions with the incentive of subsidies to encourage their participation.
Highly respected Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the minority opinion. Here are excerpts from that opinion:
“Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state Exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges. . . .”
“I wholeheartedly agree with the Court that sound interpretation requires paying attention to the whole law, not homing in on isolated words or even isolated sections. Context always matters. Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them. . .”
“The Act that Congress passed makes tax credits available only on an “Exchange established by the State.” This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.”
This decision has given President Obama and the Democrats a momentary victory but the debate on this healthcare law is far from over. In fact, the silver lining in this cloud for conservatives and Republicans is the elimination of the need for a temporary solution for the loss of subsidies for millions of Americans. It refocuses the Republican Party toward full repeal and replacement of ObamaCare with a better alternative.
This issue was a winner for Republicans in the 2014 Mid-term elections and should be once again in the presidential election of 2016. The American people have consistently voiced their disapproval for the law since 2010 and the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, will have no other choice but to try to defend it. This will be even harder as 2016 brings skyrocketing insurance premiums and more Americans find themselves without affordable healthcare.