Following today’s Supreme Court opinion in King v. Burwell, ACS President Caroline Fredrickson moderated a briefing about the outcome in the healthcare case featuring Erwin Chemerinsky, founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and Elizabeth G. Taylor, executive director of the National Health Law Program.
Chief Justice John Roberts writing for the 6-3 majority concluded in part that the intent of Congress mattered a lot and that the Affordable Care Act did not include a provision to destroy the law’s aim to expand health care coverage. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not destroy them,” Roberts wrote for the majority, joined by Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
In the call Chemerinsky noted that while the chief justice’s opinion relied on some of the plain language of the ACA, the majority also relied on context and the intent of Congress. Beyond noting Justice Antonin Scalia’s “sarcastic” dissent in King v. Burwell, Chemerinsky said Scalia failed to advance his long-held view that only the plain language of the law should rule the day.
“It is Justice Scalia who has been so outspoken in saying, ‘We only look at plain language, we don’t look at things like legislative history.’ But a majority of the Court has never taken that position,” Chemerinsky said. “Just because Justice Scalia says it loudly and often still does not make it a majority approach from the Supreme Court.”
Overall the high court interprets statutes in context. Rarely has the court interpreted statutes on text alone, Chemerinsky said.
Taylor agreed, saying that the scheme of the health care reform law was to provide health insurance across the board.
“I think this is a great day, it’s a relief to have this challenge over with,” Taylor said.
Taylor, however, added that more work lies ahead to expand healthcare coverage, noting that many states have not expanded Medicaid under the ACA, leaving millions without the ability to receive quality healthcare coverage.
Chemerinsky also lauded Roberts and Kennedy for rising above the partisanship that has surrounded the Affordable Care Act since its consideration in Congress and after its enactment in 2010. Chemerinsky, author of The Case Against The Supreme Court, was pleased the chief justice and Kennedy were able today to transcend the partisanship and uphold a law intended to better the lives of millions of Americans.
Though Chemerinsky cautioned against reading too much into Roberts’ votes to uphold the Affordable Care Act against two major challenges.
Instead, Chemerinsky said there is something else underlying the chief justice’s work, which could help explain his votes in the cases challenging major provisions of the ACA.
“I think Chief Justice John Roberts’ inclinations are much more pro-business than pro-states’ rights,” Chemerinsky said. “Both decisions benefit business, the insurance business. I just think he’s less inclined to accept the states’ rights arguments than other conservatives.”
Audio of the call is available here.