Thursday, June 25, 2015

Simply Inexplicable

The Supreme Court has ruled 6-3 in King v. Burwell that when the Affordable Care Act says plainly that people are eligible for federal health insurance subsidies in those states in which the state has set up insurance exchanges, the Act really means that people will receive subsidies whether the state has established exchanges or not.

This is a simply inexplicable reading of the Obamacare law. The Court is saying, in effect, that it doesn't matter what the law says we're going to make it say what we think it should have said. This is very disconcerting inasmuch as it makes clear that we live in a country where words and laws don't matter, a country that is no longer of, by, or for the people, a country which it may not be far-fetched to think is teetering frighteningly close to the brink of judicial tyranny.

A common-sense ruling by the Court, whose job it is to determine whether laws are consonant with the Constitution, would have been to determine that Congress employed sloppy language in writing the law, that if they intended subsidies to be available to people regardless of whether the state in which they reside had set up exchanges, then that's what they should have said and then handed the law back to Congress to fix it. That would've been the proper exercise of their judicial responsibility and constitutional authority. Instead, they usurped the prerogative of Congress and undertook to fix it themselves, a task that's beyond their constitutional purview.

"But," some will object, "the law was passed by a Democratic congress. The current Republican congress would not have fixed it, and failure to do so would've made the Affordable Care Act unsustainable." Perhaps so, but that's what it means to have a government by the people. The voters evicted the Democrats from office in 2010 and 2014 largely because they don't want Obamacare and want the law changed. The legislature expresses the voice and the will of the people. If the Republican congress allowed Obamacare to die then the people's will would've been done. The six Justices who voted to fix the law themselves are not accountable to the people and had no business in deciding what the people's will in this matter should be, particularly since there were no constitutional issues at stake.

There are several other matters very much worthy of our concern in their decision. One is the precedent it sets. It's bad enough that the president frequently circumvents the laws of the land by executive order, but if the Supreme Court also bypasses the legislature when the legislature passes a law of which they disapprove then no law is really binding. Congress has been gelded, everyone will feel entitled do what is right in his own eyes, and there's nothing to guide or constrain those at the helm of state except current ideological fashion and social pressure.

Another matter that's rarely mentioned but which is deeply troubling is that four of the Justices on the current Court are expected as a matter of course to decide in accord with the wishes of Mr. Obama on anything of importance to him. It's taken for granted by the media that Justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Breyer will always give Mr. Obama what he wants. In other words, we've come to accept with little more than a shrug that the concept of judicial independence is a sham, that it's ideology which rules on the Court, that it's members, or some of them, are little more than partisan hacks, and neither the law nor the Constitution are allowed to trump political necessity.

Justice Scalia's dissenting opinion in King is brilliant, by the way, and should be read by everyone who cares about the future of the country. Ed Morrissey provides a helpful summary of both Scalia's dissent and the profoundly unconvincing reasoning of the majority at Hot Air.