From Chief Justice Roberts’ decision (pdf):
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, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (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.
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. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.
And a bit more:
If the statutory language is plain, we must enforce it according to its terms. Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co., 560 U. S. 242, 251 (2010). But oftentimes the “meaning—or ambiguity—of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” Brown & Williamson, 529 U. S., at 132. So when deciding whether the language is plain, we must read the words “in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.” Id., at 133 (internal quotation marks omitted). Our duty, after all, is “to construe statutes, not isolated provisions.” Graham County Soil and Water Conservation Dist. v. United States ex rel. Wilson, 559 U. S. 280, 290 (2010). […]
If we give the phrase “the State that established the Exchange” its most natural meaning, there would be no “qualified individuals” on Federal Exchanges. But the Act clearly contemplates that there will be qualified individuals on every Exchange.
As we just mentioned, the Act requires all Exchanges to “make available qualified health plans to qualified individuals”—something an Exchange could not do if there were no such individuals. §18031(d)(2)(A). And the Act tells the Exchange, in deciding which health plans to offer, to consider “the interests of qualified individuals . . . in the State or States in which such Exchange operates”—again, something the Exchange could not do if qualified individuals did not exist. §18031(e)(1)(B). This problem arises repeatedly throughout the Act. See, e.g., §18031(b)(2) (allowing a State to create “one Exchange . . . for providing . . . services to both qualified individuals and qualified small employers,” rather than creating separate Exchanges for those two groups).
These provisions suggest that the Act may not always use the phrase “established by the State” in its most natural sense. Thus, the meaning of that phrase may not be as clear as it appears when read out of context.
Scalia, in a notably snarky dissent (the other two dissenters were Alito and Thomas, as you’d expect), said that Obamacare should from now on be called “SCOTUScare.”
Rick Hasen comments:
This means of interpretation is important for a number of reasons. First, it means that a new administration with a new IRS Commissioner cannot reinterpret the law to take away subsidies. Second, it puts more power into the hands of Congress over administrative agencies (and therefore the executive), at least on issues at the core of congressional legislation. Third, and most important as a general principle, it rehabilitates a focus on the law’s purpose as a touchstone to interpretation, over a rigid and formalistic textualism that ignores real-world consequences. If followed through consistently, this principle would greatly improve our statutory interpretation.
Now that this genuinely ridiculous challenge to the law has been shot down, the only viable route for Republicans who want to destroy Obamacare is to win enough elections to do it, either by electing enough Republicans in Congress to overcome a veto, or by electing a Republican president who can allow a lot of leeway for Republican-controlled states to bend Obamacare, or both.
In other news, mass layoffs were announced across all media outlets as writers of Supreme Court / Obamacare click bait headlines were suddenly rendered surplus.
This is a huge relief. I was far more worried about this one than about the same sex marriage ruling, which I actually think is a done deal.
This ruling means I don’t have to wait until Mrs. Squid is 65 to retire. Before ACA and while it’s been in limbo, that wasn’t a possibility. Mrs. Squid has a chronic pain syndrome & needs to have health insurance. The cost to insure her would have been prohibitive on an individual policy and so I was stuck having to work years and years longer than I would like to. So it does good for us and for whoever gets my job when I leave.
Congrats to Mr. Squid, and to us all.
But if I recall correctly, when the Congressional Budget Office analyzed the likely consequences of the ACA, they anticipated there would be a variety of people in Jake Squid’s shoes. (Do squids have shoes?) That is, people who were remaining in the workforce only for insurance. With the ACA, these people would retire earlier than they otherwise would have.
How would you characterize a law that grants people this kind of freedom? Reading the CBO’s report, Republicans called it “job-killing.”
If I recall correctly,
And now the right to gay marriage is also the official law of the land in the USA!
“If we give the phrase “the State that established the Exchange” its most natural meaning, there would be no “qualified individuals” on Federal Exchanges. But the Act clearly contemplates that there will be qualified individuals on every Exchange.”
In other words, “Congress screwed up the writing of this law, so we’re going to fix it for them.” Which is not their job, it’s Congress’. I”m sorry, but this looks a lot like “The ends justify the means” to me. Regardless of how you feel about the objectives of the law itself, it appears to me that the Justices have set their opinions as to how the law should work above what the law itself says.
The kicker is that the section of the law he refers to was NOT a mistake – it was a political effort to force States to set up exchanges. When the political effort failed, the Administration asked the Court to overrule the plain intent of that part of the law and judicially force what they had been unable to accomplish politically.
First, you should read the part of the opinion where he explains that the SCOTUS must consider the intent of the legislature as well as the entirety of the text of the law to determine whether that phrase might be ambiguous.
Secondly and, imo, much more importantly, when you write:
you’re just wrong. It’s been well documented that nobody, including ACA opponents, considered that as a possibility. Lawers, Guns & Money has been writing about this for a long, long time. This story contradicts your belief that the ACA set up a pre-failed backstop in the federal exchange. Why would you bother doing that if you didn’t intend subsidies to be available there?
It is definitely the job of the court to interpret laws such that the various parts within then interact in the intended way when it’s clear what the intended way was. Courts have been doing this for centuries. It is literally a canon of statutory construction. The conservative pundits saying otherwise are useless hacks.
What’s actually happening is that conservative hacks are trying to claim that the purpose of Supreme Court review is to grade the legislature’s effort like a persnickety high school composition teacher, and send their work back for revision if it isn’t up to snuff. The hope is that objections to writing quality can be jury rigged into constitutional challenges that will let conservatives retroactively triumph in legislative fights they lost. It’s pathetic hack work from top to bottom.
Another article you might want to read, RonF, explaining how “established by the state”, due to context, means something other than what you believe it to mean.
And here‘s an article describing all the ways “established by the State” is used in the law–the usage appears multiple times, sometimes referring only to state-run exchanges and sometimes definitely not. The text can’t support RonF’s kind of word-by-word parsing after the fact, because it wasn’t written with that kind of care to begin with.
It really wasn’t. I followed this debate very closely, day by day, for over a year, and at the time nobody in Congress was suggesting this or anything like this. No one in Congress, including Republicans, had this understanding of the law at the time it was written.
You’re rewriting history.
The political effort succeeded – after all, the ACA passed. But because Republicans can’t muster enough votes to overturn the ACA, they made up this ridiculous case and tried to get the Courts to overturn it for them. That effort, thankfully, failed.
The idea that Courts should look at the entire law – not just a sentence – when interpreting the law is long-established precedent, and it makes sense.