In a blistering dissent from the majority in King v. Burwell this morning, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement should be called “SCOTUScare” rather than Obamacare, in light of how many times Chief Justice John Roberts has intervened to protect the law from a crippling legal defeat.
Scalia argued that Roberts rewrote the law twice in 2012, and has now done so a third time in his King decision, which allows the IRS to continue providing subsidies to people who purchase insurance in the federal government’s health-care exchange.
“The somersaults of statutory interpretation they have performed (‘penalty’ means tax, ‘further [Medicaid] payments to the State’ means only incremental Medicaid payments to the State, ‘established by the State’ means not established by the State) will be cited by litigants endlessly, to the confusion of honest jurisprudence,” Scalia wrote in his dissent. “And the cases will publish forever the discouraging truth that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.”
‘The discouraging truth [is] that the Supreme Court of the United States favors some laws over others, and is prepared to do whatever it takes to uphold and assist its favorites.’
Roberts acknowledged that there was a “strong” case to be made that the subsidies were only allowed to be provided through state-run exchanges, but he said the fact that ruling that way would cripple the law demonstrated that Congress must not have intended the law to be read that way. “In petitioners’ view, Congress made the viability of the entire Affordable Care Act turn on the ultimate ancillary provision: a sub- sub-sub section of the Tax Code,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, which was joined by the four liberals and Justice Anthony Kennedy. “We doubt that is what Congress meant to do.”
Roberts quoted Scalia’s 2012 dissent in the Obamacare case against him. “‘Without the federal subsidies . . . the exchanges would not operate as Congress intended and may not operate at all,’” Roberts recalled Scalia writing. “So it stands to reason that Congress meant for those provisions to apply in every State as well.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.