Thursday, in a 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that upholds health insurance subsidies set up from federal exchanges. This flies in the face of the Affordable Care Act’s actual wording, which states that subsidies will only be available in exchanges on the state level.
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But now, thanks to the King v. Burwell ruling, “state level” now means “federal level” too. How that leap of logic made by Justice Roberts was performed – for the second time on the ACA – is a performance that would put most Olympic long jumpers to shame.
Speaking for the majority, Roberts said that “The Court nevertheless must do its best, ‘bearing in mind the fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.’”
Translated, Roberts means that if a bill has – as he puts it, “inartful wording” – then it’s up to the Supreme Court to fill in the blanks. That if a bill is written in such a way that causes it to fail, then the Supreme Court should rule on it in such a way that will make it work.
Wording be damned, and why not? Words apparently have little meaning now. If “state” is a malleable term, then what else can be in the future? And if I’m asking that question, then you can be pretty sure someone in the legislature is too. What’s scarier is that those definitions can be determined by whichever way the wind is blowing at the time, turning the Supreme Court into a partisan playground.
This is best explained by Scalia himself, who dissented…vehemently.
“Perhaps the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will attain the enduring status of the Social Security Act or the Taft-Hartley Act; perhaps not. But this Court’s two decisions on the Act will surely be remembered through the years. The 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.”
Justice Scalia’s dissent should be taken to heart. It was one of the few things that came out of the ruling that didn’t sound like it came from the Mad Hatter’s tea party. While I enjoyed his words – which really should be read at length – they’re frightening in the regard that the Supreme Court can, and is, deciding how they want the story to play out by helping craft the legislation they rule on.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Brandon Morse has been writing about politics and culture across many websites for the last six years, with a heavy emphasis on anti-authoritarianism. Aside from writing articles, he is also known for voice acting and authoring scripts. He is an avid gamer, dog person, and has a bad habit of making vague references to things no one has heard about or seen. Follow him at @TheBrandonMorse on Twitter.
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