ACSBlog

  • February 27, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Yes, King v. Burwell is fundamentally a case dealing with a statutory matter, not a lofty constitutional claim, but at the end of the day one must not forget that this statutory-based case, if handled improperly by the Supreme Court, will harm millions of Americans, making economic inequalities worse in this country and sending the nation’s health care system into chaos. That’s according to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law and one of the nation’s leading legal scholars, who along with Yale Law School Professor Abbe Gluck were featured in a February 26 ACS briefing on King, which the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in on March 4.

    “I think it’s important for us to focus on who is going to suffer from a result of this [a ruling by the Supreme Court that would buy the Obamacare challengers’ argument],” Chemerinsky said toward the end of the discussion. “There are millions of individuals who will no longer have health insurance because they won’t be able to afford it without” the tax credits. Such an outcome would bring down the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without health care coverage and millions more with higher costs to keep it, he said.

    Gluck noted the highly politicized nature of King, but focused on the statutory challenge and the role of the Supreme Court.

    “The case at bottom is about how the Supreme Court is going to do textual interpretation of four words in a two-thousand page law that is very complex. The challengers want the Court to look at these four words – the words are ‘established by the state,’ … in a vacuum, and the government is saying just as the court has done time and time again … that you have to look at statutory language in context and against the backdrop of all of the other legal principles, including federalism and agency deference that the Court has traditionally used to interpret statutes.”

    Gluck said there is a lot of extra textual narrative and history being invoked in the case, but not by the government. “There is a whole blogosphere set of activity, that is aimed to construct a narrative to convince the Court that what the challengers are arguing is true – that it is actually possible that Congress could have written a statute into which it sowed the seeds of its own destruction,” Gluck continued.

    Without that narrative, Gluck said, “it is impossible to think that any court would buy that story because it is so destructive to the statute as a whole and it is implausible to think Congress would have ever intended it.”

    Listen to the entire discussion here. For more on King v. Burwell, see Chemerinsky’s recent ABA Journal piece and Gluck’s Feb. 27 article for Politico Magazine.

  • February 27, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Nicholas Bagley, Assistant Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School.

    *This piece first appeared at The Incidental Economist

    One of the strangest things about King v. Burwell is the challengers’ claim that the ACA clearly withholds tax credits from states that refused to set up exchanges. When asked why on earth Congress would do such a thing, the challengers insist that Congress badly wanted the states to establish their own exchanges. The tax credits were, on this view, a carrot to prompt state participation.

    Some federal programs do work kind of like this. Medicaid, for example, dangles federal money to the states in order to encourage them to participate. If a state doesn’t accept the conditions that Congress places on receiving that money, then the state doesn’t get the money. In the lingo, Medicaid is a conditional spending program.

    When it comes to the exchanges, however, the ACA is not a conditional spending program. And it’s not a close call: the ACA doesn’t look like any other conditional spending program in the U.S. Code. Together with Thomas Merrill, Gillian Metzger, and Abbe Gluck, I submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court explaining why. (Abbe developed some of these arguments in a blog post last year.)

    For starters, Congress isn’t coy about what happens when a state fails to participate in a conditional spending program. It speaks clearly—the state doesn’t get the money—and that consequence is spelled out in a provision that speaks directly to states. That’s how the Medicaid statute works: when a state fails to play by Medicaid’s rules, “the Secretary [of HHS] shall notify such State agency that further payments will not be made to the State.” Direct and clear.

  • February 27, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At The Washington Post, Elizabeth B. Wydra discusses five myths about King v. Burwell and argues that “the Affordable Care Act provides financial assistance to all Americans who need it, regardless of who administers the insurance marketplace in their state.”

    Sarah Kilff writes at Vox that the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act will decide not only the fate of the ACA, but also whether a cancer patient can receive chemotherapy.

    At The New York Times, Vikas Bajaj argues that the FCC’s approval of strong net neutrality rules is “the right thing for the public interest.”

    Steven Mazie of The Economist considers the recent oral argument for the religious discrimination case against retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

    Nina Totenberg of NPR provides a look at the ruling in Yates v. United States, which questioned whether a law designed to prevent document shredding could be applied to objects such as fish.

  • February 27, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to report four judicial nominees to the Senate floor: Alfred H. Bennett, George C. Hanks, Jr., and Jose Rolando Olvera, Jr., to be U.S. District Judges for the Southern District of Texas, and Jill N. Parrish to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Utah. 

    Also on Thursday, the White House announced the nomination of Mary Barzee Flores and Julien Xavier Neals to serve on the United States District Courts. Flores is nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and Neals is nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

    People for the American Way discuss at their blog the problem with Republican inaction as judicial emergencies increase. Due to delays in identifying recommendations for vacancies and scheduling committee votes, there are now multiple situations in which vacancies have become judicial emergencies.

    There are currently 49 vacancies, and 20 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 14 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • February 26, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Eric J. Segall, the Kathy and Lawrence Ashe Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law

    *This post is part of the ACSblog King v. Burwell symposium.

    The plaintiffs in the latest Obamacare case, King v. Burwell, to be argued next Wednesday in the Supreme Court, have (so far) pulled off an amazing magic trick right in front of the eyes of the American people and possibly the Supreme Court of the United States. They, along with Professor Jonathan Adler, the architect of the litigation strategy, have focused their audiences’ attention on one part of a 900 page law that, read in isolation, supports their case while masterfully diverting the audience’s attention away from the part of the law that shows why their claims have no merit. They have crated this illusion not simply by focusing on one specific statutory provision (as others have shown), but based on the order in which they have asked the Court to interpret the statutory provisions at issue. This may seem too obvious but the best magic tricks are often based on a single instance of substantial misdirection.

    The plaintiffs and Professor Adler tell the following story: They start with Section 1311 of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and argue that it requires “qualified individuals” eligible for federal health insurance subsidies to purchase their insurance from an “exchange established by the state.” The federal government is not a “state,” they argue (persuasively) and therefore the plain text of Section 1311 forbids subsidies on federal exchanges. That common-sense interpretation, they claim, can only be overcome if the result is absurd. They argue that it is not absurd, and thus the plaintiffs have to win.

    This discussion of the issue, set up by the plaintiffs, and their lawyers and allies through lower court briefs, social media, and newspaper op-eds, while successful at putting the government on the defensive, is wildly out of touch with the true legal nature of the case.

    The question whether the Secretary of the IRS exceeded his legal authority by interpreting the ACA to allow subsidies on federal exchanges starts, not with Section 1311 as the plaintiffs would have you believe, but instead with the  section of the law actually relied on by the Secretary for that authority--Section 1321.  If we start there, with that baseline, it is easy to see why the plaintiffs’ claims have no merit.