The US Supreme Court today handed down its decision in Inigo Montoya v. Vizzini, upholding Obamacare. In response, Montoya said: “You keep using that word [state]; I still don’t think it means what you think it means.” Observers are already dubbing the court’s ruling “The Princess Bride Decision.” From the majority (6-3) opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts:
…and while the ACA is a badly written law that to this day remains unread by even its authors, and Americans still haven’t found out what’s in it even though it was passed years ago, there remain the issues of word meaning and legislative intent. It is a fundamental principle of law that words must be accorded their common and usual meanings, however, since the Congress intended to pass a law about health care, and since the law hangs on the meaning of “state,” it must be assumed that “state” is ambiguous and doesn’t actually mean “state,” but “federal” as well. It may also be interpreted to mean “underwear,” “passion fruit,” “Switzerland,” and “parakeet.
That, of course, was a barely satirical take on the King v. Burwell decision. Here is what Chief Justice Roberts actually wrote. See if you can detect any real difference:
The upshot of all this is that the phrase ‘an Exchange established by the State under [42 U. S. C. §18031]’ is properly viewed as ambiguous. The phrase may be limited in its reach to State Exchanges. But it is also possible that the phrase refers to all Exchanges—both State and Federal—at least for purposes of the tax credits. If a State chooses not to follow the directive in Section 18031 that it establish an Exchange, the Act tells the Secretary to establish ‘such Exchange.’ §18041. And by using the words ‘such Exchange,’ the Act indicates that State and Federal Exchanges should be the same. But State and Federal Exchanges would differ in a fundamental way if tax credits were available only on State Exchanges—one type of Exchange would help make insurance more affordable by providing billions of dollars to the States’ citizens; the other type of Exchange would not.2 [at 12-13].
Justice Scalia wrote the dissent. Some excerpts:
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. In order to receive any money under §36B, an individual must enroll in an insurance plan through an ‘Exchange established by the State.’ The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a State. So an Exchange established by the Secretary is not an Exchange established by the State—which means people who buy health insurance through such an Exchange get no money under §36B.
Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’ …. [at 2, italics in original]
‘[T]he plain, obvious, and rational meaning of a statute is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow, hidden sense that nothing but the exigency of a hard case and the ingenuity and study of an acute and powerful intellect would discover.’ Lynch v. Alworth-Stephens Co., 267 U. S. 364, 370 (1925) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved. [at 2-3]
Today’s opinion changes the usual rules of statutory interpretation for the sake of the Affordable Care Act. That, alas, is not a novelty. In National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, 567 U. S. ___, this Court revised major components of the statute in order to save them from unconstitutionality. The Act that Congress passed provides that every individual ‘shall’ maintain insurance or else pay a ‘penalty.’ 26 U. S. C. §5000A. This Court, however, saw that the Commerce Clause does not authorize a federal mandate to buy health insurance. So it rewrote the mandate-cum-penalty as a tax. 567 U. S., at ___–___ (principal opinion) (slip op., at 15–45).
The Act that Congress passed also requires every State to accept an expansion of its Medicaid program, or else risk losing all Medicaid funding. 42 U. S. C. §1396c. This Court, however, saw that the Spending Clause does not authorize this coercive condition. So it rewrote the law to withhold only the incremental funds associated with the Medicaid expansion. 567 U. S., at ___–___ (principal opinion) (slip op., at 45–58). Having transformed two major parts of the law, the Court today has turned its attention to a third. The Act that Congress passed makes tax credits available only on an ‘Exchange established by the State.’ This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere.
We should start calling this law SCOTUScare. [at 20-21, emphasis and hard paragraph breaks added.]
By all means, take the link and read all of Prof. Jacobson’s (Legal Insurrection) take on this act of legislation by the Supreme Court.
President Obama almost immediately issued his usual smug commentary, and as usual, told numerous lies about the wonders of SCOTUSCare.
Rather than dealing with the law, the Supreme Court majority made a fundamentally political decision. Had the Court ruled that words mean what they actually mean, it would have fallen back to Congress to clarify the law, but because the Court knew that the Congress would be unlikely to preserve the law as the Court preferred, they handed down a decision that turned logic on its head and wrote the legislature out of the legislative process. It’s a point Justice Scalia makes in greater depth here.
The effects of this decision will be long-lasting. SCOTUSCare is now a major point of contention in the 2016 election. Without a Republican president in 2017, there will be little or no chance of repealing SCOTUSCare in its entirety. Even with a Republican president, the Republican leadership of the Senate and House seem less than enthusiastic about that prospect.
At least Republicans will not have to immediately beclown themselves by taking complete responsibility for SCOTUSCare away from the Democrats and saddling themselves with it, as all too many of them seemed anxious to do. As I’m sure you remember, gentle readers, not a single Republican voted for SCOTUSCare. I’m sure the members of the stupid party will find other ways of shooting themselves in the foot.
The law will now have several more years to become even more firmly infiltrates the fabric of America, and more Americans will come to depend upon its “free” goodies, even as its costs continue to drive America to bankruptcy.
But most importantly, the Supreme Court has now established the precedent that words mean whatever Progressives want them to mean, whenever they want them to mean it, regardless of what they write in a law. Dictionaries are so…limiting and microaggressive.
Jonathan Gruber and Mr. Obama were right: the American public–at least the majority of the Supreme Court–are stupid, and they relied on that stupidity to pass SCOTUSCare, and to save it. That ill-intentioned, anti-American despots like them are celebrating today and mocking their fellow Americans, does not bode well for what remains of our barely constitutional republic.