Chief Justice John Roberts: Obamacare is so muddled, it's hard to know what the hell Congress meant. So, we have to interpret the Affordable Care Act more broadly as to Congress' intent.
The stunning decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that the deceptively misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (it does neither), better known as Obamacare, doesn't mean what it says, actually gives former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, an implied jab. (The text of the decision in King v. Burwell is here.)
SCOTUS didn't single out Pelosi and Reid by name. But at the heart of the 6-to-3 decision, is the criticism that the law was unclear, thanks to the speed that it was rushed through and its length and complexity. You'll remember Pelosi's infamous quote that we'll have to pass Obamacare to find out what's in it. So here's what Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion (as quoted in the Wall Street Journal):
The Affordable Care Act contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting. (To cite just one, the Act creates three separate Section 1563s. See 124 Stat. 270, 911, 912.) Several features of the Act’s passage contributed to that unfortunate reality. Congress wrote key parts of the Act behind closed doors, rather than through “the traditional legislative process.” And Congress passed much of the Act using a complicated budgetary procedure known as “reconciliation,” which limited opportunities for debate and amendment, and bypassed the Senate’s normal 60-vote filibuster requirement. As a result, the Act does not reflect the type of care and deliberation that one might expect of such significant legislation. Anyway, we “must do our best, bearing in mind the fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.” After reading Section 36B along with other related provisions in the Act, we cannot conclude that the phrase “an Exchange established by the State under [Section 18031]” is unambiguous. [My emphasis]
Recall with us now those thrilling days of yesteryear when Democrats, who were then more inclined to do President Barack Obama's bidding, pushed through Obamacare in one of the worst acts of partisanship in living memory. No chance for debate; no chance for amendments; no times for thoughtful understanding. And this from a court that found in favor of Obamacare.
In other words, Reid, Pelosi and Democratic lawmakers screwed up the process so badly, the court said it had no other choice to imply what their intent was. In this, the court totally ignored the statements of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber.
I suggest that when Obamacare comes up for consideration in the next Congress under a Republican president that a fuller, fairer and more rational debate be held on what to do with this legislative monstrosity known as Obamacare. (President Barack Obama says that it is here to stay.)
For those who are interested, here is the dissent, written by Justice Antonin Scalia in a 21-page dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito (as cited by the Wall Street Journal).
I wholeheartedly agree with the Court that sound interpretation requires paying attention to the whole law, not homing in on isolated words or even isolated sections. Context always matters. Let us not forget, however, why context matters: It is a tool for understanding the terms of the law, not an excuse for rewriting them…
Far from offering the overwhelming evidence of meaning needed to justify the Court’s interpretation, other contextual clues undermine it at every turn. To begin with, other parts of the Act sharply distinguish between the establishment of an Exchange by a State and the establishment of an Exchange by the Federal Government….Provisions such as these destroy any pretense that a federal Exchange is in some sense also established by a State…
The Court has not come close to presenting the compelling contextual case necessary to justify departing from the ordinary meaning of the terms of the law. Quite the contrary, context only underscores the outlandishness of the Court’s interpretation. Reading the Act as a whole leaves no doubt about the matter: “Exchange established by the State” means what it looks like it means.
For information on my award-winning historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812," visit: http://www.madness1812.com
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