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  • June 25, 2015

    by Jeremy Leaming

    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.

  • June 25, 2015
    Guest Post

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

    In a debate with Professor Jonathan Adler, one of the architects of the plaintiffs’ litigation strategy in King v. Burwell, in the Pennsylvania Law Review, I began as follows: “Many issues, both constitutional and statutory, that reach the United States Supreme Court raise difficult and complex interpretive and normative questions. . . . The King case, however, is different.”

    It was different, I argued, because Congress explained exactly what would happen if states refused to create their own health insurance exchanges (which 36 states refused to do). In that circumstance, under Section 1321 of the Act, the federal government was required to establish “such exchange,” as the ones established by the states. As the Court today said: “By using the phrase ‘such Exchange,’ [Section 1321] instructs the Secretary to establish and operate the same Exchange that the State was directed to establish.” That kind of exchange quite obviously was authorized by the law to offer federal subsidies, and that is exactly what today’s opinion held.

    If there were any doubts at all about the strength of the legal arguments made by the government and its supporters, Justice Roberts put them to rest by not relying on the Chevron rule of deference that says all reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutory language should be upheld, but rather by siding with the government as a pure matter of law. Deference was not required, according to the Chief, because this was one of those “extraordinary cases” where Congress is unlikely to have intended that courts defer to agency decisions. This part of the opinion may well prove problematic in the future when courts evaluate agency decisions but today demonstrates that at least six justices of the United States Supreme Court were willing to say that Congress rather clearly and obviously expected federal subsidies to be available on federal as well as state exchanges.

    In addition to the pure legal analysis, the majority opinion also said that “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.”

    This language, while unnecessary to the holding in the case, may be a strong signal from the justices that it will not undo through legal means the Affordable Care Act. There are, after all, a number of challenges to the ACA still pending in the lower courts, including a baseless Origination Clause challenge to the entire law. Maybe, hopefully, the justices are indicating that the fate of the ACA rests in the political arena, not in partisan challenges dressed up as legal cases. At the end of the day, that may be the best news of all.

  • June 25, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Neil J. Kinkopf, Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law

    The Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell is enormously consequential in many respects.  Initial commentary has focused, inevitably, on the decision’s consequences for the 2016 presidential candidates and for the millions of people who were in jeopardy of losing health insurance. Comparatively little attention has 

    been paid to how the Court decided the case, and for lawyers this is where to find the decision’s lasting significance.  In a subsequent post, I will examine what the opinion means for the ongoing debate over method in statutory interpretation. In this post, I want to discuss the administrative law aspect of the Court’s decision. 

    The Supreme Court’s ruling affirms the holding of the Fourth Circuit below, but specifically rejected its administrative law reasoning. The Fourth Circuit had held that the Affordable Care Act is ambiguous as to whether an HHS-created exchange should be included within the ambit of state exchanges for purposes of determining an individual’s eligibility for health insurance subsidies.  For that reason, the Fourth Circuit invoked the famous Chevron doctrine. Chevron, of course, instructs that where a statute is ambiguous, a court should defer to the agency’s interpretation of the statute as long as that interpretation is reasonable. 

    The Supreme Court disagreed. It held that, even though the ACA is ambiguous, Chevron is inapplicable because the Court is to defer the agency’s interpretation only if Congress meant to delegate authority to interpret the statute to the agency. Because the IRS has no particular expertise regarding the proper structure of a health care system, it is unlikely that Congress would have meant to delegate interpretive authority to the IRS. The Court then decided that the best interpretation of the ambiguous statute is that an HHS-created exchange should be treated as a state exchange. Because this happened to be the same interpretation the IRS had given the ACA, the Court affirmed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the IRS interpretation. Again, the affirmance is based not on Chevron deference; the Court rather agreed that the government’s interpretation is the correct one.

  • June 25, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Adam Winkler, Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

    *This piece originally appeared at The Huffington Post

    For proponents of the Affordable Care Act, today's Supreme Court decision upholding federal subsidies on federally created exchanges is cause to celebrate. Once again, the ACA has survived a potentially fatal challenge. The significance of today's decision, however, also extends into the future. Because of how the Supreme Court reasoned in the case, a future president opposed to the ACA (including all of the current crop of GOP contenders) will not be able to reinterpret the law to deny subsidies to low- and middle-income taxpayers in the future.

    One of the arguments rejected by Chief Justice John Roberts' majority decision is that the ACA is ambiguous and that, as a result, the Court should defer to the construction of the relevant administrative agency, here the Internal Revenue Service. (The IRS read the statute to allow subsidies.) Robert said it was the justices' job to read the statute for themselves without deference to the IRS. While the court rejected the administration's argument on this point, Obama's loss bodes well for the long-term viability of the Affordable Care Act.

    If the court had deferred to the IRS construction of the statute, the next president, should he or she be opposed to subsidies, could have pushed the IRS to reconsider the law. The IRS could have determined then that the ACA did not make subsidies available on the federally created exchanges. That would have gutted the law -- even without opponents having to pass anything from Congress.

    Chief Justice Roberts' decision eliminates the possibility. By insisting that the subsidy question was too important for the court to defer to the agency's interpretation, Roberts betrays his usual preference for judicial supremacy and skepticism of the executive branch. Yet in doing so he takes the subsidy question off the table for future presidents. A President Rubio or Bush won't be able to reinterpret the ACA to deny subsidies on the federally created exchanges. The ACA has now been authoritatively and conclusively read by the Supreme Court to allow subsidies.

    Chief Justice Roberts has not only saved Obamacare once again. He's also given the law strong protection against future attack.

  • June 25, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    At The New York Times, Adam Liptak reports that the Supreme Court has ruled against the challenges, deciding that the Affordable Care Act does allow nationwide tax subsidies. Read the opinion here.

    Richard Wolf of USA Today explains the other major ruling of the day in which the Court upheld the disparate impact standard for housing discrimination. Read the opinion here.

    Kent Greenfield and ACS Board of Directors member Adam Winkler argue at The Atlantic that the liberal justices on the Supreme Court have expanded the corporate personhood without considering the doctrine’s limits.

    Walter Dellinger, member of the ACS Board of Advisors, writes at Slate that conservative decisions in King v. Burwell and Obergefell would further divide the United States.

    At The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the meaning of the Confederate flag and why the “Confederate flag should come down because it is embarrassing to all Americans.”