With Roberts Taking the Lead, Obamacare Subsidies Upheld 6-3 at Supreme Court

The Obama administration scored a victory at the Supreme Court today as justices upheld Obamacare subsidies in the King v. Burwell decision.

The decision was 6-3, with justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Sam Alito dissenting.


Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion. “The combination of no tax credits and an ineffective coverage requirement could well push a State’s individual insurance market into a death spiral,” Roberts wrote. “…It is implausible that Congress meant the Act to operate in this manner.”

“In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—’to say what the law is.’ Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36Bcan fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.”


Scalia issued a scathing dissent quipping that the law should now be called “SCOTUScare.”

“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, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so,” Scalia wrote.

“This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. 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,” he continued.

“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.”


Roberts also saved Obamacare in June 2012 as the deciding vote on the constitutionality of the law’s penalty, writing then that “the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax.”


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