Key part of Burwell decision: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets”


U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell.  The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks (who is the artist?)

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell. The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks. [Continued search for credit information on this image turned up this caption; artist is Dana Verkouteren of Associated Press] “This courtroom artist rendering shows Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the petitioners, right, speaking before the Supreme Court in March. King v. Burwell, a major test of the Affordable Care Act, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

In all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell case today, you’d be lucky to learn what the Court actually said.

Here are the key paragraphs of the majority’s decision (links added here), as written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

Reliance on context and structure in statutory interpretation is a “subtle business, calling for great wariness lest what professes to be mere rendering becomes creation and attempted interpretation of legislation becomes legislation itself.” Palmer v. Massachusetts, 308 U. S. 79, 83 (1939). For the reasons we have given, however, such reliance is appropriate in this case, and leads us to conclude that Section 36B allows tax credits for insurance purchased on any Exchange created under the Act. Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

*    *    *

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.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is

Affirmed.

Go read the rest of the 47 pages (in the .pdf from the Supreme Court), if you wish to be well-informed.  The case probably isn’t at all what’s being reported in most venues.

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