Almost any high school textbook on U.S. government will tell you Congress makes the laws, the president approves the laws and the Supreme Court interprets the laws. Based on yesterday’s 6-3 decision in favor of the Affordable Care Act in King v. Burwell, it might be time to rewrite those textbooks.
Chief Justice Roberts had the political left jumping for joy yesterday as he delivered the opinion of the court. The opinion further established how the court must respect the legislature and provide a fair reading of the law in the context of its legislative plan. Claiming to be carrying forward the legislative plan of Congress, the court declared that the Affordable Care Act intended for tax credits to be offered through federal health-care exchanges, despite the law’s language limiting such subsidies to exchanges “established by the state.”
While both sides of the political aisle can agree on respecting Congress and its intentions, there is a clear distinction between making laws and mending laws. In King v. Burwell, the political agenda of saving the Affordable Care Act seemingly superseded a clear, literal interpretation of the text.
Two-thirds of the Supreme Court chose to ignore that language. They used judicial abdication to their advantage, broadened the meaning of the text, and appeased the leviathan state. In his dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia responded to the majority’s interpretation of the statute, stating”
Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is ‘established by the State.’
Regardless of the intent of Congress or its unintentional so-called “drafting error,” the Supreme Court has no obligation to bend down to Congress, and no power to rescue it from perceived errors. The court has one job, and that is to interpret the law.
The Supreme Court will be praised by some for preventing 6.4 million from losing health-care subsidies in 34 states, yet few will recall the millionswho lost their previous health insurance because of the ACA. Nor will they mention the rising insurance premiums for healthy Americans, or the emerging evidence of the overall decline in access to and the overall quality of medical care in the United States.
By using judicial abdication to alter the reading of the text of the Affordable Care Act, the court has set precedent for future decisions, allowing for much more than just “interpreting” the law.