SCOTUS holiday party prep: 5 reasons you hate/love the Obamacare decision

fingerpointing5 reasons you hate/love the Obamacare decision (King v. Burwell)

What a week last week turned out to be at the Supreme Court! It certainly was exciting and unlike last year there wasn’t just one big case, like Hobby Lobby, that got so much attention. There were several big opinions that got the public’s attention over the last week, but one in particular has come up a lot this week.

Odds are you heard bits and pieces of the decisions, but it wasn’t exactly a light week for current events so you may have some gaps in the details. There’s also a very good chance you’re going to a holiday party this weekend where family or friends will gather and try ever so hard to avoid the cardinal sin of holiday gatherings – political discussions. They’re unavoidable and they always seem to happen whether you want them to or not. Rather than squirm or awkwardly walk away from the table when the inevitable happens, be ready and poised for that moment when someone says, “Did you hear about that healthcare decision?

Such a question is not totally inappropriate. Given how recently the Court finished the term with not only controversial and timely cases, but also a spectacular array of passionate majority opinions, thundering dissents, and even one cantankerous concurrence read from the bench, it’s no surprise the subject could come up. Lots of folks fall back on current events as discussion starters at holiday parties when no one knows what else to talk about. Listen, we’re here to encourage you to resist the urge to flee either because you don’t feel confident enough to hold the conversation or you’re worried your politics may differ from the person engaging the discussion. It’s gonna be ok.

We’ve created a simple and short run down of the Obamacare case, King v. Burwell, and provided you with talking points that will better help you explain the case or defend your position. Use the points on the side you disagree with as prep for what your conservative Uncle/liberal Aunt might throw at you.

Good luck out there, Bystandrs!

What’s the case about?

Tax credits and the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. The Act was written to make insurance more affordable by giving people tax credits to offset costs. To get insurance, people go into a marketplace to sign up with an insurance company. Some states set up their own marketplaces, most did not. For people living in states that did not, they had to go into the marketplace set up by the federal government. The issue in this case rested on language in the Act that said only people getting their insurance in marketplaces “established by the States” could take advantage of these tax credits. Millions of Americans live in states without marketplaces and get their insurance from the federal option. The fate of their coverage rested on the decision in this case.

On Thursday, June 25th the Supreme Court decided the tax credits are available regardless of whether people get their insurance on the federal or state marketplace.

I agree with the majority decision in King v. Burwell

Sure you do, and it’s the easiest side to agree with because, well, they won. Remember, arguing the victorious side requires patience and sympathy; hear the other side out, and go easy on them.

  1. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision for the majority and said despite an “inartful” drafting of certain language in the Act, to read the language of the text literally would upend coverage for millions of Americans. “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve the health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” It would be utterly pointless for Congress to pass massive legislation with self-destructing language inside that, when read literally, gives and then takes away insurance discounts to millions of Americans, which is essentially what would happen for those states without their own marketplaces.
  2. This one is even easier to defend given that it was a 6-3 decision, even fetching the Chief Justice’s vote, rather than a divisive 5-4 decision. Granted, a 6-3 decision isn’t a lock, but it’s compelling enough to quash the notion that liberals on the bench only got their way thanks to the mercurial swing voter Kennedy.
  3. In numerous other places in the Act, language exists that supports the fact that participants on state or federal exchanges be able to take advantage of the “premium tax credits.” Making such benefits available only to those who got their insurance in state marketplaces makes no sense and defeats the point.
  4. Giving context to the meaning of text like “established by the states” is under the Court’s purview. Although the phrase “judicial activism” in undoubtedly thrown around by those who disagree with this decision, when ambiguities exist it’s the Court’s job to say what the law in fact is. Roberts used Marbury v. Madison to support this point “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 (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.”

I did not agree with the decision in King v. Burwell

Get yourself a copy of Justice Scalia’s dissenting opinion, or don’t and just read below. After you’ve crushed the debate and impressed your friends with a sophisticated understanding of this case, make peace by sharing the “Scalia insult generator” with your friends.

  1. Do words mean nothing?!? I mean, that’s really the best and only point necessary on this side of the debate. To say the Act was written inartfully is not only inaccurate, it’s a weak attempt to excuse Congress’ purposeful use of the words “established by the states” and remedy their error by putting new language to explain what it really meant.
  2. This is judicial activism at its worst, as many who disagreed with this decision said. That’s literally what the majority did by saying that when Congress wrote “established by the states” what they really meant was “by the states and the federal government.” Remember the legislature didn’t put the Affordable Care Act together over night. They chose each word precisely and thoughtfully. If both were intended, they would’ve written that into the Act.
  3. This kind of legislating from the bench is beyond the constitutional powers given to the Supreme Court and dangerous. If a body of unelected judges ultimately has the final say about what a law really means and how it should be applied, it discredits the authority of Congress. Let’s just call it “SCOTUScare” Justice Scalia mocked the majority during his dissent. Congress is the law-making body; they decide what laws are proposed and what they should do. If people don’t like the way the law is written, they will voice such unhappiness through the proper channels and work to reform the laws rather than relying on the Supreme Court.
  4. The majority is cherry-picking what legal issues they want to revise setting a clear political agenda for the Court. The majority protected the ACA the first time with linguistic magic that turned a penalty into a tax. This time, they did it with another act of legal gymnastics broadening the text to mean something else entirely.

Happy holiday!